Schizophrenia has many genetic links: Study

2014-07-23 20:39

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New York - Over 100 locations on the human genome may play a role in a person's risk of developing schizophrenia, according to a new study.

While the results don't have an immediate effect on those living with the psychiatric disorder, one of the study's authors said they open areas of research into a topic that had looked closed.

"The exciting thing about having little openings is it gives you a place to dig and make big openings", said Steve McCarroll, director of genetics for the Stanley centre for psychiatric research at the broad institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

McCarroll is part of the Schizophrenia working group of the psychiatric genomics consortium. published the study in the journal Nature.

About one percent of Americans have schizophrenia, according to the national institutes of health. The disorder's symptoms, which include hallucinations and delusions, often begin between people's teenage years and their late-20s.

Researchers have long believed genetics play an important role in a person's schizophrenia risk, because about 10% of those with a parent or sibling living with schizophrenia also have the disorder.

In the new study, the researchers identified 108 locations on the human genome that are tied to schizophrenia risk by comparing the genomes of over 80 000 people with and without the disorder.

Treatments

"Every one of us has dozens of these variants", McCarroll said. "Schizophrenia patients on average have more than unaffected individuals but that's only true on average, not every individual case."

Of those 108 locations, the researchers write that 83 had not been previously linked to schizophrenia.

Some of the genes found to be linked to schizophrenia risk include those that have also been tied to how brain cells communicate with each other and to learning and memory.

The new findings support the use of some existing treatments for the symptoms of schizophrenia and researchers hope they may point to other more comprehensive treatments.

The research team also found evidence to support a long-suspected link between immune system problems and the disorder.

Research into schizophrenia is just at the beginning of what there is to learn, McCarroll said.

"We have a long way to go", said Dr Steve Hyman, director of the Stanley center. "One thing I often say is it would be a great tragedy to end up with a list of genes. The goal is obviously to understand the disease process and develop treatments."

The broad institute also announced on Tuesday a $650m gift to the Stanley centre from its namesake Ted Stanley. The commitment, which includes annual gifts and a bequest, is the largest in the history of psychiatric research, according to the Institute.

The gift will allow researchers studying psychiatric disorders to take greater risks than before, Hyman said.

"If we take sensible risks and we never fail, we're being too timid", he said. "We're not going to solve these problems with tried-and-true paths."
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