Wednesday, April 20, 2011
SAN DIEGO Schizophrenia is a severe and disabling mental illness that affects about 2 million Americans.
Symptoms include disorganized thoughts and speech, visual and auditory hallucinations, paranoia and delusions.
The complexity of the disease has made for slow headway in understanding and treating it. But now that's changed.
Salk researchers have found that nerve cells or neurons in schizophrenic patients make far fewer connections than healthy nerve cells.
The discovery was made on living nerve cells in a petri dish.
Prior to the Salk research, experiments had to be done on the deceased brains of schizophrenics and animals.
Kristen Brennand, Ph.D., was a co-author of the study. She said their team was able to make living nerve cells from adult stem cells that they had harvested from the skin of schizophrenic patients.
“For the first time we can make an unlimited number of live human neurons for schizophrenia patients,” explained Brennand.
She also said the living nerve cells provide an unprecedented source for anti-schizophrenic drug experimentation and testing.
“Because we found a difference between schizophrenia neurons and healthy ones, —we can now screen a 1000, 10,000, or a 100,000 drug compounds to see which of the compounds will work directly on the cells.”
In one test, researchers found the commonly used anti-psychotic drug; Loxapine had restored nerve function to normal levels in all of the brain cells tested.
The landmark study also identified nearly 600 new genes related to schizophrenia.