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August 24, 2006
Biomarker Discovered for Schizophrenia - May Help in Diagnosis
Cambridge University (UK) announced this week that researchers have discovered what they are calling the first biomarker (or biological marker or test) for schizophrenia. The initial study was done with only 54 people - so validation studies by independent research groups with larger numbers of participants need to be performed before we know if this study is completely accurate. As we've reported earlier - there is another reseach group that is working on a blood test for schizophrenia, and other groups working on a breath test for schizophrenia, and an IQ test for schizophrenia. Only time will tell if any of these approaches ultimately yield a simple, cost-effective test that can be used widely in the diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia patients have higher levels of glucose in their brain and spinal fluid, a characteristic which could be used for early diagnosis and treatment of the condition, according to findings in a recent University of Cambridge collaborative study.
“These biomarkers could enable us to develop new early or pre-symptomatic treatments to improve outcomes or even prevent disease symptoms,” said Dr Sabine Bahn from the Institute of Biotechnology, University of Cambridge.
The study has identified that newly diagnosed schizophrenic patients have characteristic changes in small molecules (metabolic changes) including higher levels of the sugar glucose in their brain and spinal fluid (cerebrospinal fluid; CSF), when compared to healthy individuals.
Glucose is a sugar which is transported in the blood and is the main energy source for our bodies. Schizophrenia patients, however, appear to use a different energy source in their brains, called lactate. It seems that glucose remains high in the schizophrenia patient’s brain as it is not being effectively used.
When the newly diagnosed patients were given medications to treat schizophrenia, the levels of these biomarkers returned in over half the patients to similar levels as seen in the healthy volunteers.
These differences in sugar metabolism could be used to predict individuals at high risk of developing schizophrenia. Given the link between glucose and medication, it could also provide a practical method for monitoring the treatment of patients with drugs, much faster than could be done by monitoring symptoms alone.
Diagnosing schizophrenia can be a very difficult and time-consuming process due to its wide range of symptoms and their similarity to other mental disorders. There is currently no diagnostic test for the condition, but the symptomatic diagnosis is based purely on clinical interviews and observations along guidelines from diagnostic manuals.
Treatment is often delayed until the illness is established and according to the current diagnostic manuals a patient has to present with symptoms of the disease for a minimum of 6 months before he can be diagnosed with schizophrenia. This is problematic as early diagnosis usually results in a better response to treatment, and a more positive outcome for the patient.
Additionally, prescribed medication can take up to 6 months to act on the major symptoms of the disease; thus delaying effective treatment even further.
The study was conducted by the University of Cambridge, University of Cologne and Imperial College London. The free-access article appears in this week's edition of the journal PLoS Medicine.
Posted by szadmin at August 24, 2006 09:43 AM
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