June 18, 2007

Blood Tests to Diagnose Schizophrenia Moving Towards Clinical Testing

There have, over the past year, been a number of announcements from researchers developing new blood tests for diagnosing schizophrenia and other mental illnesses (see links to the stories below). Given the level of activity in this area it is apparent that progress is being made and it seems likely that one of these tests will make it to market and begin being used in clinics, but exactly when this will happen is still unknown.

This week a new announcement has been made out of Cambridge University in the UK that a blood test has been developed that could allow doctors to diagnose mental illnesses, such as depression and schizophrenia, before patients begin to display symptoms.

The Telegraph newspaper in the UK reported this week that the researchers at Cambridge University have announced progress on the test and Prof Sabine Bahn, a psychiatrist at Cambridge University, is reporting that she has found different mental health disorders have their own distinctive chemical "signatures''.

She claims the test will speed up the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, which at present can take up to three years while the patient's condition worsens. The UK health system currently spends more than $25 billion a year on mental health care, and the US the cost of schizophrenia treatment and lost productivity is estimated at over $62 Billion.

The Telegraph reported:

Dr. Bahn said "It can take a long time and a patient needs to display symptoms for six months before they get a diagnosis, which means we are missing an important treatment opportunity at the moment.

"There is a big need for a diagnostic test that a GP can do simply and cheaply. A blood test is ideal for that.

"We have found markers which are changing in the brain, spinal fluid and in the blood, so we have focused on identifying a signature of several markers in the blood.''

Her team is now hoping to conduct clinical trials on tests for schizophrenia, depression and bi-polar disorder, and to develop similar ways of diagnosing conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Prof Bahn added that the chemical markers used in the blood tests were providing valuable information that could eventually lead to new treatments.

Read the full story: Blood tests to diagnose mental illness

For an indepth discussion of this new research in the area of biological testing for psychiatric disorders - see the following article from Nature magazine: Biomarkers trump behavior in mental illness diagnosis (pdf)

A recent research paper published by Dr. Bahn and others on this topic can be read on the PLOS website: Metabolic Profiling of CSF: Evidence That Early Intervention May Impact on Disease Progression and Outcome in Schizophrenia

It was also recently announced that a new company, PsyNova Ltd, is being established with Dr Bahn and the University of Cambridge being the key founders. This company will be the firm that develops and ultimately commercializes these new blood tests if they prove accurate in clinical testing.

Related Reading:

Genetic blood test for schizophrenia?

Biological Test for Schizophrenia?

Blood Test for Schizophrenia - Update

Abnormal Proteins Linked to Schizophrenia Found in Body Tissue

Blood Test for Schizophrenia Offered


More proof that this is a physiological issue than something an individual "chooses" to have!!! Bravo UK, keep the research comming

Posted by: rustysmom at June 18, 2007 09:48 AM

Hi Rusty'smom - I may have missed it, but I've never seen any news that suggest that schizophrenia or other mental illness/brain disorder is something that someone "chooses" to have. At the same time - there is a lot of research that shows that what a person thinks, how they think, and their perceptions (i.e. thoughts) influence their stress levels and brain chemicals.

The stress that people experience is a result that is due, in part, to how they perceive the situations they are experiencing which in turn influences their brain chemicals. Researchers tell us that that there really is no difference (other than conceptual) between brain physiology and psychology. When it comes down to it - thoughts are based on neurotransmitters ("chemicals") - so just because something is physiological, doesn't mean its not also psychological. Everyone here is probably familiar with the idea that chemicals and medications can influence thoughts, and researchers tell us that its just as true that thoughts influence brain chemistry.

The distinction between "brain" and "mind" is something that for the most part has disappeared in neuroscience today. Of course, a person's "psychology" / "brain chemistry" is just one area that is thought to influence schizophrenia risk. Some good articles if you'd like to read more on this topic:

1. Psychotherapy changes Brain Chemistry

2. Is It Psychological Or Biological?

3. Stress and Pregnancy - The Importance of Low Stress in Brain Development

Posted by: szadmin at June 18, 2007 11:12 AM

Some illnesses called "schizophrenia" have nothing to do with thought processes, emotions, or "mental" mumbo jumbo. The hormones affecting the brain are messed up, cortisol levels, thyroid levels, thyroid transporting hormones, etc are not as they should be. The brain grows with faults.

The result is that the brain itself is lacking the resiliency normal brains have to stressors - not that the thought processes increase stress, but the brain is not resilient.

Then, along comes a doctor who misdiagnoses the person and gives a stimulant medication, and BAM - the kid has schizophrenia, and no amount of emotional mumbo jumbo would change that. Or, the person foolishly smokes marijuana while carrying the susceptibility gene, and BAM - they have some schizophrenia.

I COMPLETELY understand what Rustysmom is saying - this is a physical illness like cancer. It is not due to thought processes. It is not a choice. It is not mental or emotional.

Perhaps for some people, they have symptoms of schizophrenia because of some kind of severe mental or emotional thinking - ie they "do it to themselves". But the illness many of us on these boards know of as schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder are not those illnesses. We see an illness that has nothing to do with "emotions" or "thoughts", but is a medical illness.

Positive thinking cannot will it away. It can help a person cope and recover, but it cannot prevent or cure it.

And this test is supposed to diagnose it even before the symptoms can be called "schizophrenia" - it could be in the "prodrome" phase. If that had been available when my daughter was little, maybe the doctor would not have prescribed the medication she was on when she ended up in the pediatric ward of a "mental" type hospital.

Of course, since they also didn't diagnose her thyroid problems and other problems stemming from her hypothalamus, she may have still ended up there, but at least she wouldn't have been prescribed something potentially harmful.

Yes, Rustysmom... I know what you are saying.


Posted by: Naomi at June 18, 2007 12:20 PM

I was referring to the uneducated public, not those of us on this board who are aware of this disease and the genetic roots and physiological components it is comprised of!!
The only "news" that indicates that mental illness is NOT physiological is seen daily on TV by companies like Unilever who promote the false perceptions and stigma of mental health (referring to the commercial depicting a scantly clad female "controlling" a male in a straight jacket for Sunsilk Shampoo-they should be ashamed).
Thanks for understanding Naomi :o)

Posted by: rustysmom at June 18, 2007 03:33 PM

So far, study results suggest that schizophrenia is caused by: genetic factor + environmental factors

Some sz cases, in my view, are physiological issues while some are also involved psychological issues. When a person is diagnosed having sz as a child, this is mainly physiological issue. In this case, the sz is caused by genetic defect (s/he will have sz no matter in what kind of environment).

However, majority schizophrenia cases are caused by both genetic and environmental. That's to say that without the contribution of environmental factors, sz would not occur.

Environmental factors, I think, can be both physiological and psychological. Brain damages by accident, stroke, drug abuse, alcohol abuse etc. are some examples of physiological issues. However, many cases, if not most cases, are involved with environmental stresses which psychological factors are heavily mixed in.

Many scientific studies have indicated that psychological stress can affect brain chemicals. This is why psychotherapy along, in some cases, can successfully treat sz patients; while we have never heard any study claiming that psychotherapy can successfully treat cancer patients (except claims that psychotherapy may delay cancer deaths).

Posted by: JD05 at June 18, 2007 06:20 PM

Let's sum up: Etiology of schizophrenia is very complex.

Thanx for the news about the test.

Posted by: CopperKettle at June 18, 2007 08:24 PM

JD05 -
"while we have never heard any study claiming that psychotherapy can successfully treat cancer patients (except claims that psychotherapy may delay cancer deaths)."

Most cancers are also genetics + environment. And there have been studies to show that early life may influence whether or not a person will develop these illnesses. Stressors increase cytokines and other inflammatory markers. There is more oxidative stress. The immune systems get more vulnerable. Some types of cancers, schizophrenias, etc is more genetic than others. Some cancers, schizophrenias, etc are more environmental than others. And by "environment, we are talking about so many possible factors that the list may be infinite. In some cancers (and some schizophrenias) even light vs darkness and sleep habits may contribute.

Psychotherapy can help patients with schizophrenia OR cancer to deal with their illnesses - and in some cases even help them beat ie- cure - the illnesses.

Some cases. Some.

Best to enhance mental health for all, and provide as healthy and toxin-free environment for all to cut down on number of cancers, heart disease, schizophrenias, lupus, MS, arthritis, etc. Psychology influences them all to varying degrees.... but so much else influences it as well, including genetics.

Yet the general public doesn't point a finger at the person with MS and say - it is your fault or your parents' fault... yet their upbringing and life choices as well as a thousand other things COULD HAVE influenced their getting that illness. We still call them medical.

That's the point.

Posted by: Naomi at June 19, 2007 05:08 AM


I don't see this an issue as "fault" at all. This discussion is simply one about "cause and effect" - and is based on new information that NO parent Could have Known 5, 10 or 20 years ago - so there is NO Blame being put on parents.

For example, we now know that Type 2 diabetes is 95% environmental as far as I've read - but you don't see people running around "blaming parents" - rather there is a very big push on "educating parents" about the importance of exercise and fitness in children, and avoidance of junk food and excess calories. Just because the environment plays a roll in a given disease or disorder doesn't suggest that blame is suggested - quite the opposite - "Education" must be emphasized so as to prevent it in the future.

Last week in an excellent schizophrenia review article - it mentioned how the Finish 40 year long study has identified how a positive family environment provided a protective effect in the development to such a high level that there was an 86% REDUCTION in the rate of schizophrenia in high risk children (who's mothers had schizophrenia). This well-done study (researcher's opinion, not mine) suggests that even for the highest risk children there may be a way to dramatically reduce the rate of schizophrenia. Sure - 14% of these high-risk children still developed schizophrenia - even in the healthy family environments - so there are other factors - but a reduction of 86% is huge - and it suggests that for "most" people who are at high schizophrenia risk - there is a very, very good way to help children reduce their risk of schizophrenia.

In any situation where you want to reduce risk for a given disease or health problem - you want to target the "High Benefit" factors first because they provide the best bang for the buck. It increasingly seems that the evidence in the area of schizophrenia prevention suggests that early prenatal care (nutrition, prenatal stress) - and family environment - are the two big areas of potential risk reduction.

We can't change the past - and nobody can be blamed for not knowing the the importance of prenatal nutrition and family environment in the role of schizophrenia development. But it seems unproductive to ignore or underplay some important discoveries that could reduce the rate of schizophrenia by 86%.

See: Finish Study Identifies Family Environment Factors that Provide 86% Risk Reduction in Children at High Risk for Schizophrenia protection

Posted by: SzAdministrator at June 19, 2007 10:03 AM

I'll try to say it differently, then I'll just give up for now.

Rustysmom was saying essentially that the tests will show it is not "mental" - ie the person's thoughts and emotions are not what caused the illness, but rather, the illness affects the person's thoughts and emotions.

These tests are to show the person "has it" even though they don't yet have symptoms. That means that steps might be taken to help the person remain symptom free. Maybe. Will it still be called a mental illness?

What about prenatal stress contributing to getting diabetes and hypercholesterolemia later in life? Just because we can cut down on that exposure, and therefore have less cases of it - does it make it any less medical a condition? No.

The diagnosis of even a predisposition to schizophrenia should be MEDICAL. Not "mental". Then, doctors can do things better. They can avoid medications like ADHD drugs that would be contraindicated. They can be more cautious with asthma drugs, decongestants, and many other drugs that might be contraindicated for a person with that MEDICAL condition. It is not stress, thoughts, emotions, etc that cause a lot of the people that start out with the medical/genetic problem from getting acute symptoms of it. But in some cases, things DO happen.

I'll bet that a lot more of the kids in that Finnish study would have gotten the full-blown symptoms if their doctors were prescribing Ritalin and Adderall like the U.S.A. doctors do, and more of them did heavy drugs like the U.S. children and teens, and have erratic sleep schedules etc like U.S. kids do.

There is no study on how "protective" a good home life would be for children in the face of being given stimulants because of the wrong MEDICAl diagnosis.

But right now, none of these diagnoses are being done medically. Well... that's not really true, because psych symptoms from thyroid dysfunction used to be "mental" and now that is diagnosed medically, but I mean all the ones still left in the "mental illness" category.

It would be nice to see a medical test. BEFORE symptoms get bad. Because for a lot of people they really have the illness for many years, if not from birth... waiting like time bomb, or slowly developing and worsening over the years. Then, when that is known... knowing what the doctors should and shouldn't do, and letting the kids know as well.

That's what some of us will celebrate.


Posted by: Naomi at June 19, 2007 02:14 PM

Looks like Sabine Bahn works with Psynova:


quote: Psynova has won The Overall Mental Health and Neurosciences Innovation Award with its blood test to diagnose mental illness, developed by consultant psychiatrist Sabine Bahn, who was inspired by her father's illness to carry out her research.

Posted by: CopperKettle at June 20, 2007 07:47 AM


Psynova Neurotech was established in 2005 by Dr Sabine Bahn MD, Ph.D, MRCPsych, and Prof Chris Lowe PhD of the University of Cambridge (UK), for the commercial development and exploitation of novel biomarkers for neuropsychiatric illnesses.

For co-founder Sabine Bahn, a psychiatrist by training, establishing Psynova Neurotech and the Centre for Neuropsychiatric Research in Cambridge, is a personal endeavour, having grown up in Germany with a father suffering from Bipolar disorder.

Posted by: CopperKettle at June 20, 2007 07:52 AM

Maybe schizophrenia.com could arrange a thorough interview with Sabina? It would be very interesting!

Posted by: CopperKettle at June 20, 2007 08:39 AM

question for Naomi: i know it was a while ago but i'm hoping you'll see this. What did you mean in your comment (in "Blood Tests to diagnose... from June 18,2007): For some people they have symptoms because of some kind of severe emotional/mental thinking...they do it to themselves(not an exact quote). Thanks, Pat

Posted by: pat taylor at July 2, 2007 02:07 PM

Pat - That was meant as bitter sarcasm. -Naomi

Posted by: Naomi at July 2, 2007 08:50 PM

The article about schizoprenia throws light on the mental and social well being of a schizoprenient..
It would be better if more info about diagnosis and treatment are available in the same..

Posted by: sathyabhama at January 13, 2008 10:33 PM

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