December 06, 2004

Progress in Neuroscience Brings Hope for SZ

Read more... Schizophrenia Biology

The subject of neuroscience, the study of how the brain works and responds, has advanced in leaps and bounds in the past forty years or so. Scientists who were once restricted to examining brains from already-dead organisms can now, through gene manipulation in animal models and advanced brain imaging technology, observe the direct results of how a brain functions under any number of different conditions. We can see the inside of a living brain even as it performs tasks, allowing us to pinpoint with increasing accuracy the different functional areas and their connections with each other.

Neuroscience is expanding from being the study of micro-anatomy - one gene, one protein, one neurotransmitter - to being a science that can synthesize all the behavioral, environmental, developmental, and biological aspects that affect the human condition.

Even with all these advances, there is still a myriad of territory to explore. Fortunately, there are researchers ready to take up the challenge. Innovations in the area of directed treatment for brain diseases have made the future bright for people afflicted with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and many other conditions. Early diagnosis, early treatment interventions, and new long-term management therapies will vastly improve the outlook of these diseases.

"In five or 10 years, when a person comes into my office and says, `I hear voices,' I can send this person for a test so that we can record brain activity to diagnose where the voices come from," says Stephan Heckers, director of the Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont. "That will be possible. That's going to happen."

That's not the only thing that could happen. Knowing what we now know about the plasticity of the brain, especially during development stages of life, scientists are pouring more energy into ways to prevent, detect, and possibly delay debilitating conditions such as schizophrenia in their earliest stages. Medications that enhance cognitive power and embryonic stem cell therapies to help promote new neuron growth may also be on the horizon.

"There's so much research going on, and so much hope," says Evie Barkin, the executive director of McLean Hospital's Jonathan O. Cole Mental Health Consumer Resource Center. "The new generation will have it easier."

For more information on current schizophrenia and brain research going on today, please review our Research Blog (updated frequently with new stories), or visit Schizophrenia Biology and Genetics on the homepage.

Read about some of the innovative diagnostic tools that may help to identify schizophrenia at its earliest stages. (

See what risk factors (both environmental and biological) research has linked to schizophrenia, and what you can do to reduce your own risk. (

Original source article: "Brain Power: As scientists move closer to understanding how the brain thinks, they're making strides foward finding what causes schizophrenia and other mental illnesses." (Dec 5 2004). Available in the Boston Globe -


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