Irish team in breakthrough on fighting schizophrenia
New research by Irish scientists has increased the hope of developing badly needed tailored treatments for schizophrenia, the brain condition affecting nearly 4,000 people in this country.
The team from Trinity College and the Royal College of Surgeons has found that flaws in the blood vessels in the brain of some people may contribute to the mental illness.
Schizophrenia can cause a range of different psychological symptoms.
A person may not always be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.
Dr Matthew Campbell, assistant professor in neurovascular genetics at Trinity, said the finding was the first time it has been suggested that these abnormalities in brain blood vessels were associated with schizophrenia.
"The concept of tailoring drugs to regulate and treat abnormal brain blood vessels is a novel treatment strategy.
"It offers great potential to complement existing treatments of this debilitating disease," he said.
The study, which appears today in the journal 'Molecular Psychiatry', points out that existing treatments for schizophrenia patients largely and almost exclusively involve the use of anti-psychotic drugs.
These are used along with psychosocial therapy, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.
However, these are often dropped by patients because they see them as ineffective and people cannot put up with "intolerable side-effects".
There is "a clear and urgent need" to provide new insights into the cause of schizophrenia and develop new therapies.
The new research, led by scientists in the Smurfit Institute of Genetics, which also may have implications for other brain disorders, looked at this network of blood vessels.
They regulate the transport of materials in and out of the brain and form what is known as the blood-brain barrier.
But abnormalities in this network may be instrumental in the development of schizophrenia. The flaws are also implicated in traumatic brain injuries and neurodegenerative disorders.
Central to understanding of the condition, and potential new treatments, are levels of the gene termed 'Claudin-5'.
The researchers believe that if drugs can be developed to directly target the blood-brain barrier, patients could be offered new therapies to treat the disorder.
The desperate need for more therapies is highlighted in stark figures showing the life expectancy of people with schizophrenia can be between 10-25 years fewer than non-sufferers, according to the study.
The scientists pointed out up to 16,000 people die annually as a result of the condition.
Schizophrenia can run in families and previous research suggested that combinations of genes can make people more vulnerable to the condition.
Previous studies have looked at identical twins to try to provide answers.
They found that if one twin developed schizophrenia, the other twin had a one in two chance of also being diagnosed.
The research found this can happen even in the case of twins who grew up in separate families.
For non-identical twins who had different genetic make-ups, the odds were different.
If one twin developed schizophrenia, the other had a one in seven chance of also being diagnosed.