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IMH, A*Star scientists find ways to identify schizophrenia earlier

New data will allow scientists identify schizophrenia-prone individuals as well as help them develop better treatments.

SINGAPORE: In the largest genomic study published on any psychiatric order to date, researchers from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and A*Star’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) have identified genetic markers that will enable better and early identification of those who might develop schizophrenia.  

A disorder that has seen little development in drug treatment options in the last 60 years, schizophrenia affects approximately 1 out of every 100 people worldwide. The latest findings point to biological mechanisms and pathways that may underlie the disorder, which could lead to new approaches to treat it.

“These new findings open doors to allow researchers to examine and better clarify the underlying brain connectivity changes associated with these genes and genetic mechanisms," explained Adjunct Associate Professor Sim Kang, one of the researchers from IMH’s Research Division.

"A better understanding of the genetic mechanism and underlying brain changes can potentially allow better detection of illness monitoring of response with treatment and progression over time.”

Medications currently on the market only treat psychosis, which makes up one of a multitude of symptoms of the disorder, leaving other debilitating symptoms such as cognitive impairments untreated. This is partially attributed to the fact that the biological aspect of the disorder had not been fully understood.

In achieving these findings, the researchers looked at over 80,000 genetic samples from individuals with and without schizophrenia, and found 108 specific marker locations – of which 83 were previously thought to have no association with the disorder – in the genome.

Currently, approved medications for schizophrenia target several of these locations in the genome, suggesting that the other markers may point to targets for therapy in the future.

Professor Liu Jianjun, Deputy Director of Research Programmes at GIS, added that the study, which took several years to complete, was a “great demonstration that large-scale genetic association study is a powerful tool for understanding disease genetic susceptibility and revealing novel biological insight into disease mechanism”.

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