Schizophrenia Update - Schizophrenia News and Information Newsletter - May 29, 2004

The following two stories on new diagnostic tests for schizophrenia look to be a major development in schizophrenia treatment since one of the key issues individuals and families have faced in the past is the difficulties in getting proper diagnosis. We hope that schizophrenia advocacy groups incorporate this into their mantra for full insurance coverage for brain diseases like schizophrenia - and also for programs for early diagnosis testing for high risk groups (family members of people with schizophrenia, for example) in light of the fact that early treatment of schizophrenia is associated with much better clinical outcomes.


New Brain test provides early Prediction/Identification of Schizophrenia

RESEARCHERS in the UK have claimed a major breakthrough in the treatment of schizophrenia by using brain-imaging tests to predict the illness.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Stephen Lawrie, of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital and the division of psychiatry at Edinburgh University’s faculty of medicine, said his team had picked up specific changes in the brains of people who would go on to develop schizophrenia.

Their work is part of a long-term research project involving the testing of more than 100 people whose relatives have schizophrenia and so are genetically predisposed to it.

Lawrie said that of the 162 relatives the team had tested in the past 10 years, 21 had developed schizophrenia. “In those 21 we have seen very definite changes by using pen-and-paper tests, but more importantly with brain imaging techniques,” he said.

“We have identified changes in the brain that can predict schizophrenia up to five years in advance. These are changes that would happen before anyone would make a clinical diagnosis.

“The results are utterly amazing. The obvious implication is that if we can detect the illness early, we can intervene and maybe even prevent it.”

A study by the team, published in the current issue of the journal Brain, details its finding that scanning found subtle abnormalities in the brains of patients deemed to be at risk of schizophrenia.

In the study, patients underwent scanning in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine while silently completing sentences. During the test at-risk subjects showed unique abnormalities in the fron tal, thalamic (midbrain) and cerebellar (hindbrain) regions of the brain, yet none “met any diagnostic criteria for a psychotic illness, was on medication or had even considered themselves unwell”.

“A crucial question that no-one has yet been able to address is whether it is the structural or the functional changes in the brain that come first,” said Lawrie.

“That will be important in dictating the best treatments. If the structural changes are evident first, then you’d be thinking along the lines of cognitive enhancers or drugs similar to those prescribed for Alzheimer’s. But if the functional changes come first, it might be possible to think more about more psychotherapeutic interventions.

“The treatments available at best control the symptoms of the illness. In almost all cases, people with schizophrenia don’t get back to the work or the studying that they were doing before they became ill.

“We found that in almost all the high-risk group who develop schizophrenia, the first symptoms are anxiety and depression, and that slowly changes into the typical delusions and hallucinations.

“It’s possible that if you were to intervene with anti-depressants or some sort of psychotherapy when people were anxious and depressed you might be able to treat that, and perhaps prevent the progression to psychosis.

“Often people with schizophrenia are diagnosed only when they get into problems with the law or barricade themselves in their room, or something dramatic like that.”

Source: Scotland Sunday Herald, 28 March

Imaging Test Could Be Used To Diagnose Schizophrenia - 94%+ Accuracy

Yale University - New Haven, Conn. -- An abnormal pattern in an area of the brain that governs hearing may be an accurate method of diagnosing schizophrenia, according to a study by Yale researchers and collaborators.

"These results seem to point to a cardinal abnormality in schizophrenia," said Godfrey Pearlson, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, director of the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center at the Institute of Living in Hartford, and senior author of the study published in Biological Psychiatry. "Using this imaging test, we were able to identify patients with schizophrenia with 97 percent accuracy."

Pearlson, Vince Calhoun and Kent Kiehl later replicated their initial finding with an independent sample and achieved a 94 percent rate of accuracy. Calhoun and Kiehl have appointments at the Olin Center and Yale.

Currently, the clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia is based on a constellation of psychiatric symptoms. The mental illness also has been associated with both structural and functional abnormalities in neocortical networks including frontal, parietal, and temporal regions of the brain, but there has been no diagnostic test for the disorder.

Abnormalities in auditory cortex structure and function are prominent features of the brains in persons with schizophrenia, particularly in the superior temporal gyrus (SRG). Reduction in size of the SRG may correlate with the severity of auditory hallucinations and of formal thought disorder. However, all of these previously documented anatomic differences overlap significantly with those of healthy controls and are thus not useful for diagnosis.

"Therefore, this newly reported functional brain change results in almost total separation of patients and healthy controls in two independent samples, and thus has possible diagnostic utility," Pearlson said.

Data were collected from two locations. One group consisted of 17 outpatients with chronic schizophrenia matched with 17 healthy persons in Vancouver, B.C. Another group consisted of eight patients and eight healthy persons in Hartford, Conn.

"These results have the potential to provide a powerful, quantitative clinical tool for the assessment of schizophrenia," Pearlson said.

Citation: Biological Psychiatry, Vol. 55 (8): 842-849, April 15, 2004

Source: Yale University - Press Release

14% of Schizophrenia Cases Are Caused by Flu During Pregnancy, Research Suggests

A recent research study by Columbia University identified that approximately 14% of schizophrenia cases seem to have been caused by influenza during pregnancy.

The study indicated that Flu during the first trimester of pregnancy increased risk of developing schizophrenia in the child by approx. 700%, while flu during the third trimester increased schizophrenia risk for the child by 300%.

"This is the first time that this association has been shown using" blood tests that confirmed influenza infection during pregnancy, lead author Dr. Alan S. Brown, from Columbia University in New York, told Reuters Health. "It provides what I think is the strongest evidence to date linking (prenatal) influenza exposure with schizophrenia."

The findings reinforce recommendations that women of childbearing age be vaccinated against influenza. However, Dr. Brown Continued, because the mechanism underlying the schizophrenia connection is unknown, "we may not want to give the vaccine during pregnancy," he said. Until more is known, "it's possible that vaccination (during pregnancy) could have a harmful effect."

The safest approach to pregnancy (with regard to avoiding schizophrenia) seems to be to become pregnant only after taking a vaccination shot. The annual vaccination shots typically become available in early Fall (Sept./October in North America) so the October/November timeframe would seem to be best for beginning a pregnancy. Make extra efforts to avoid exposure of mother to influenza and other viruses during pregnancy. At minimum, some researchers are suggesting all pregnant mothers get a flu shot during the flu season (and prior to becoming pregnant) to reduce the probability of getting the flu during pregnancy.

Reducing Schizophrenia Risks During Pregnancy

Source: Flu During Pregnancy Linked to Schizophrenia, and Presentation at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting in New York (May 1 to 7).

New Harvard Schizophrenia Study Initiated - Volunteers Needed

Researchers at Harvard Medical School are studying a new way of treating schizophrenia. Current medications only treat the symptoms of schizophrenia, not the cause. The treatment we are studying may result in a more lasting improvement of symptoms by normalizing a biological process that is thought to be irregular in this disorder. This treatment involves taking an FDA-approved medication, in addition to the subject’s current medication.

We are recruiting subjects who are:
- schizophrenic
- 18-25 years old
- taking risperidone (Risperdal)
- Live in the Boston Area

Compensation up to $250 will be provided to the participants.

For more information, please call Andrea at 617-998-5010

The study will take place in Boston, so participants must live close enough to come in for weekly visits. The study will last approximately 7 months. For six months, study participants will be taking the study drug (tiagabine) or placebo. For three months the visits to our office will be weekly, then only once a month for an additional three months. There will also be an MRI scan at the beginning and end of the study. The study is a double-blind, placebo-controlled, add-on design. Participants must be 18-25 years old, schizophrenic, and on risperidone.


NIMH Trials launched to test treatment of cognitive dysfunction in schizophrenia

One persistent problem that discussion group members report are cognitive impairments due to negative symptoms: trouble concentrating, memory problems, etc.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded a four-year, $9 million contract to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and five other academic medical centers to create a network of Treatment Units for Research on Neurocognition and Schizophrenia (TURNS). The research will test the effectiveness of new drug treatments for the cognitive deficits of schizophrenia. The project will be directed by Stephen R. Marder, M.D., at UCLA with investigators at Harvard's Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Duke University, Durham, Washington University, St. Louis, and Nathan Klein Institute, New York.

This article indicates that "the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded a four-year, $9 million contract to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and five other academic medical centers to create a network of Treatment Units for Research on Neurocognition and Schizophrenia (TURNS). The research will test the effectiveness of new drug treatments for the cognitive deficits of schizophrenia. "

For a List of all the Active Schizophrenia-related clinical trials being conducted by the NIMH see the following web page:

We Encourage Participation in these trials and research studies so that improved care can more quickly come to people with schizophrenia.

The Link between Crime, Violence and Schizophrenia - Recent Research

There have been two news stories this past week related to the incidence of crime by people who have schizophrenia.

A new study out of Australia sounds like one of the most comprehensive I've seen - covers a 25 year period during which the researchers monitored 2800 people who had schizophrenia and compared the results to a similar number who didn't have schizophrenia. The conclusion of the study was that:

"People with schizophrenia are three to five times more likely to commit crimes than those without the mental illness, the largest study yet of the link has found.

The Australian study also found that 8.2 per cent of the schizophrenic group had been convicted of a violent offence - a rate 4.5 times the 1.8 per cent of the other group.

Dr Simpson said both studies showed that violence by people with severe mental illnesses was an issue.

"As a contribution to total societal risk, people with schizophrenia, although slightly higher risk, do not present a major or overwhelming risk. Less than 0.2 per cent of the people with schizophrenia committed homicide over a 13-year period."

The researchers urged action to provide better services to people with schizophrenia to reduce the incidence of violence: "He urged addressing these problems for schizophrenics, offering therapy for personality difficulties such as insensitivity to others, helping them into jobs or at least providing structured activities and support. "If you do these things you could probably reduce crime by 5 to 10 per cent."

For the Full News Story on this Study see: Schizophrenia Boosts Crime Likelihood, The New Zealand Herald, May 17th.

A second story on this subject (and is commentary on the same study) comes out of the American Psychiatric Association...

Psychiatrists Disagree About Crime-Schizophrenia Link

This story stated that "People with schizophrenia appear to have a higher rate of criminal and violent behavior than people in the general population.

That finding does not appear to be explained solely by the presence of active symptoms, the concurrence of substance abuse, or the effects of deinstitutionalization, according to a report in the April American Journal of Psychiatry.

Rather, the pattern of offending among patients with schizophrenia reflects a range of factors that appear to be operative before, during, and after periods of illness, said Paul E. Mullen, M.B.B.S., D.Sc., of the Victoria Institute of Forensic Mental Health, Victoria, Australia, and colleagues.

The controversial finding, however, is disputed by at least one expert who reviewed the report for Psychiatric News.

Darrel Regier, M.D., M.P.H., director of the APA Office of Research, commented that the study’s methods for controlling all potentially confounding factors that might influence criminal offending among people with schizophrenia are insufficient to support the conclusions. "

This news item also emphasized that better treatment for people with schizophrenia could minimize this problem. "The study suggests that many of the factors that produce offending in the general population are important in producing offending in schizophrenia," he said. "These include disturbed backgrounds, poor social conditions, unemployment, and substance abuse, among others. But those with schizophrenia may be more vulnerable to these influences. It argues for a much more holistic approach to the treatment of schizophrenia, taking far greater note of the psychological and social problems of these patients if we are to do anything to reduce offending in our patients."

MIT Grad Finds Poetry in Mother's Schizophrenia; Performs Solo Show

A recent press release announced that a Boston-based poet and performer Michael Mack has developed a one-man play Hearing Voices (Speaking in Tongues). Mack's 90-minute monolog draws on his life as a child raised by a mother with schizophrenia.

What inspired such a play? "When I was a student at MIT, I took a poetry workshop for elective credit," Mack said. "You know, easy A." But soon he found himself writing with an urgency that surprised him. Encouraged by his mentor Maxine Kumin (Pulitzer Prize for Poetry) and by Seamus Heaney (Nobel Prize for Literature), Mack began full-time study in the MIT Writing Program.

"My mother's illness profoundly shaped me," he said. "I felt shadowed by it, afraid I'd get sick too." "Whenever I do this show, people come up afterward to tell me about their own mother's illness, or their father's, their sister's, their son's," Mack said.

We'll be covering Michael Mack in more depth in a future newsletter.

Lack of Empathy Part of Schizophrenia (BBC News)

It is not only autistic people who have a reduced ability to empathise with others - it also happens in conditions such as schizophrenia and depression.

And Dr Michael Isaac, of Lewisham University Hospital in London, said that empathy was something that could be learned to an extent in some people who exhibit autistic-like behaviour.

While this news report is focused on Autism - many of the same issues relating to lack of Empathy are common to people with schizophrenia - and so it is likely that the approach to improving empathy in autistic people would also work for those who have schizophrenia.

Having empathy for other people is a much more simple and basic emotion than thought, scientists have found.

Experiments by scientists at the The Netherland's University of Groningen have shown that developing empathy is just a matter of learning which emotions go with certain events.

The brain then becomes conditioned to trigger the same response when those events involve other people.

Source: BBC News: Empathy finding offers autism hope

Cellular Cause Identified in Schizophrenia

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania say that they made an important cellular discovery in the cause of schizophrenia.

In at least 10 populations around the world, a significant association between schizophrenia and the gene for dysbindin has been noted, making dysbindin the most highly replicated schizophrenia-associated gene described to date.

This research highlights the fact that there are a number pathways to the development of schizophrenia - both genetic and environmental. Increasingly this research suggests that a significant percentage of schizophrenia cases can be prevented by greater care and awareness of the risks during pregnancy and ultimately by identification of genetic risk factors that can be countered through early treatment and avoidance of further environmental factors (such as street drugs) that trigger the disease.

Source: May issue, Journal of Clinical Investigation

Another Study Ties Marijuana to Schizophrenia Onset

In a new study that was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry this week (April 14, 2004) - it was again confirmed (as already confirmed in over 30 other studies) that Cannabis/Marijuana use is closely associated with early development of schizophrenia.

The research states that "New research reveals that cannabis use is strongly associated with early onset of symptoms in men with schizophrenia.

The authors say their results are significant as early onset schizophrenia carries a particularly poor prognosis.

The study examined the independent associations between gender and cannabis use and age of onset of schizophrenia."

Source: Medical News Today: Early-onset schizophrenia linked to cannabis use

Home Environment is essential to battle schizophrenia: study States

A recent study in Australia suggests that the living environment can be a key aspect of recovery for people that have schizophrenia - sugtesting that has been overlooked in the past, and undervalued in countries like the USA that tend to minimize services and support systems for the mentally ill.

Excerpt from ABC Australia News:

"A new Queensland study has found securing a stable home life for people with schizophrenia could be more important than chasing a drug cure.

Queensland University of Technology researcher Graeme Browne says people living in their own homes have more supportive social relationships than those living in boarding houses."

"I think including people with mental illnesses in all the processes in the delivery of mental health services is critical."

Gene Variation Thought to be Responsible for 2% of Cases of Schizophrenia

A specific gene variation is confirmed as a contributor in schizophrenia - and appears to be responsible for about 2% of the cases of schizophrenia in white people.

Excerpt from Iowa City Press-Citizen:

A new piece of the schizophrenia puzzle has been found by University of Iowa researchers.

"For years, we've wondered why the genes that seem to make us vulnerable to mental illness are so common," Philibert said. "You know how they say, 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger.' Well, some of the genes that make us stronger can hurt us, too."

He explained that if a person has two copies of a certain gene, that person will develop sickle cell anemia. But if the person has only one copy of that same gene, that person is more resistant to malaria.

The UI researchers found that a certain gene segment can cause a form of schizophrenia in about 2 percent of white people.

Weight loss possible with structured weight loss program

A new study funded by Eli Lilly corporation and published in the April issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry "shows obese adults taking atypical antipsychotic medications to treat severe mental illness such as schizophrenia were able to significantly decrease their weight and body mass index (BMI) while participating in a year-long structured weight management program.

This study is the first to provide long-term data showing that patients being treated for schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder with atypical antipsychotics can benefit from a weight control program."

At the annual APA meeting in New York we saw that many of the pharma companies that sell schizophrenia drugs are now pushing healthy diets and exercise (as well as diabetes awareness) - and this all seems like valuable advice. We hope at the same time that they are investing significant resources into finding new drug candidates with better side effect profiles.

Opportunities at

Freelance Writers is expanding its requirement for freelance writers to help us cover the latest developments in schizophrenia, to write success stories about people who have schizophrenia, and to do in-depth reporting on the progress in the science and biology of schizophrenia. Ideally freelancers will have experience writing for consumer science, mental illness or psychiatry publications.

If you have some experience in journalism and writing and are interested in doing some contract work for us, please submit your resume with a writing sample via email.

Due to problems with Viruses - the resume and writing sample should be sent either in plain text format in the body of the email message, or as PDF file attachments (Adobe Acrobat files).

Send an email to: szwebmaster (at), Put in "Freelance Writing" as the subject of the email.


Summer Intern is currently looking for a university/college student (preferably focused on psychiatry or in sciences and interested in moving toward medical school to study psychiatry).

The applicant should have a good understanding of the challenges faced by individuals and families - either due to past work experience or to close contact with family members or friends who have schizophrenia.

Work Overview: Miscellaneous Web Site Work, Web Page Development, Writing and Editing, email response, etc.


  • 2+ years of HTML experience - preferably with a professional web site development software package such as Macromedia Dreamweaver.
  • Strong English writing and editing skills
  • Strong Organizational Skills
  • Ability to work independently in a focused and efficient manner
  • Strong attention to detail (we need the web site as accurate and precise as possible)
  • Maturity, with Good interpersonal skills - the ability to converse with researchers and other partners.
  • Must have full-time (8-hours + per day) access to a good computer (300Mhz for faster Pentium with Windows 98 or newer) with good Internet access - ideally the computer would be located in your own work space (i.e. personal office, bedroom, etc.) for privacy and concentration.
  • Must have access to telephone for occasional co-ordination with other people, etc. during regular business hours.
  • Previous work experience of some type - two personal references that we can contact and interview.
  • The ideal candidate would have a strong science and English skills. Please highlight these strengths in your response - and provide evidence that demonstrates accomplishment in these areas.

Location: Person can be anywhere in the world
Duration: Approximately from May through September, 2004

Terms and Rates: This is a contractor position. Pay will be commensurate with experience, specify rates that you require. Telephone and basic internet access fees related to the work can be covered by if required.

If you have relevant work examples (papers written, web pages created by you, etc.) please include them (or links to them) in your application.

Please describe how you have gained your experience with schizophrenia.

Due to problems with Viruses - the resume and writing sample should be sent either in plain text format in the body of the email message, or as PDF file attachments (Adobe Acrobat files).

Email Resume and information to: szwebmaster (at), Put in "Summer Intern " as the subject of the email.




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