Schizophrenia is present in over 1% of the population, regardless of cultural and geographical differences. In 2009, an extensive three-year schizophrenia study confirmed the genetic precursors and heritability of schizophrenia. This was not a surprise to the scientific community, as it was a validation of previous research. The study also described the polygenic component involving a mix of hundreds of genes with very small effects in the human body.
Yet, not everyone that is genetically predisposed for schizophrenia exhibits signs and symptoms. Environmental factors also play a role in the onset of the disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these factors may be one or a combination of the following:
- Exposure to viruses
- Malnutrition before birth
- Problems during birth
Many of the genes associated in the 2009 study were responsible for neurotransmitters. Interestingly, a segment of the genetic code was also associated with the immune system, which confirmed assumptions in earlier research, as well. And, this segment corresponds to the highest risk-conferring of all the gene segments. The New Yorker magazine recently published an informative article on the effects, symptoms, and genetic research leading to the finding of the C4A gene, the one most prevalent in schizophrenia patients. Finding a major genetic marker opens new doors for researchers that one day may lead to a cure.
Schizophrenia is a malicious disease. It lies hidden throughout childhood and adolescence. When it does appear in a young adult, their entire personality goes through a severe change. And, these changes have a negative effect on interpersonal relationships with parents, siblings, partners, and friendships. This disorder is very challenging for family members trying to cope with the abrupt and devastating changes in their loved one. Especially during the first schizophrenic episode, parents want to help their child, but don’t know what’s wrong or how to help.
Another challenge for many people with schizophrenia is that they feel there is nothing wrong. Subsequently, they fail to take their medications. This becomes an enormous challenge for families and friends who are struggling to help their loved one.
A Balancing Act
“Schizophrenia is a neurodegenerative illness,” explained Dr. Andrew Cutler, Meridien Research’s Chief Medical Officer. “With each episode, the patient’s brain is shrinking over time.” Therefore, it’s critical to diagnose and treat the individual at the earliest stages of onset.
Because of the complexity and mix of hundreds of genes, current antipsychotic medications are dramatically effective for a only narrow segment of the population. “We don’t really have very good treatments for schizophrenia. While the majority of patients respond to some degree, significant and meaningful recovery is rare,” said Dr. Cutler. “It’s a lot like Alzheimer’s. We have medications that treat some of the symptoms, but there is no cure. If a patient takes their medicine faithfully, however, they can stop brain tissue loss and potentially slow or even prevent progression of their illness.”
Many patients have lost confidence in their antipsychotic medicine and stop taking them because of inadequate efficacy against terrifying psychotic symptoms or due to troublesome side effects like sedation, weight gain, muscle stiffness, tremor or involuntary movements. Currently, research on these medications focuses on disease state management, as well as reducing the major side effects of these drugs. With every year, scientific research gets closer to understanding this disorder and creating new drug therapies to help patients live a healthy and meaningful life.
Meridien Research’s Bradenton clinic regularly offers schizophrenia research studies. Our studies focus on the latest research-backed therapies. Our goal is to work with pharmaceutical companies to find interventions that regulate brain function. If you or someone you care about is living with schizophrenia, please call Meridien Research at 941-756-8680 to find out more about the clinical trials we have open.