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Genetics play a key role in how schizophrenia develops

More than £1 million to identify genomic changes in schizophrenia

The Medical Research Council is awarding more than £1 million to the University of Exeter Medical School to continue their pioneering work into how and why schizophrenia develops. 

Scientists have long known that schizophrenia, which usually becomes evident during adolescence or in young adulthood, has its origins in the brain before birth.

The research team which also involves the University of Essex will use cutting-edge DNA sequencing technology funded by a previous Medical Research Council grant to explore patterns of gene activity in the brain as it grows and develops, and the role that changes in these patterns play in schizophrenia. They will also profile a unique collection of post-mortem brain tissue donated by patients with schizophrenia from around the world.

Professor Jonathan Mill, of the University of Exeter Medical School, leads the research team. He said: “In the past decade we’ve made tremendous progress in identifying genetic risk factors for schizophrenia. We know that more than 100 regions of the genome play a role in a person’s risk of developing schizophrenia, but little is known about the specific genes involved in the disease, and how their function is regulated in the developing brain. If we can find out gene activity is altered in the development of schizophrenia, we eventually hope to be able to identify new treatment pathways in future.”

Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric disorder, characterised by psychotic symptoms, delusions and hallucinations, disorganisation, dysfunctional affective responses, and altered brain functioning. The social and economic consequences of schizophrenia are severe, eclipsing those of many other illnesses. Schizophrenia ranks among the top ten causes of disability in developed countries worldwide. 

Dr Rachael Panizzo, programme manager for mental health and addiction at the Medical Research Council: “Mental health continues to be a priority for the MRC and our Strategy for Lifelong Mental Health Research sets out how we will achieve our vision of accelerating our understanding of mental disorders and the development of new  and more effective treatments. We are committed to funding world-class researchers and exciting discovery science in mental health. Exploring the role our genes play in mental disorders such as schizophrenia could reveal new opportunities to treat and prevent mental illness.”

Date: 5 October 2017