UQ among world leaders in schizophrenia research


University of Queensland researchers are at the forefront of an international project to identify genes associated with schizophrenia, a common mental illness whose causes are not fully understood.

Associate Professor Bryan Mowry, Director of the Genetics Program at the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research (QCMHR), and his team were invited to be part of a major United States project looking into the molecular genetics of the disease, the only team outside of the US to be invited.

Dr Mowry said the cause of schizophrenia has a strong genetic component and his work aims to identify genes for this devastating disease that affects between 80,000 and 90,000 Australians.

Schizophrenia is a severe, disabling brain disease with its onset usually in early adulthood, and symptoms include unshakable false beliefs, hearing voices, incoherent speech and the breakdown of normal thought processes and emotions.

"Evidence from family, twin and adoption studies clearly demonstrates that schizophrenia clusters in families and this is largely due to genetic factors," Dr Mowry said.

"However, epidemiological data and molecular genetic studies demonstrate that susceptibility to schizophrenia is likely to be the result of many genes interacting with each other and with environmental risk factors."

Dr Mowry said identifying and understanding these genes may lead to better drug treatment.

"Around 70 percent of people with schizophrenia respond to medication but current drugs have some unpleasant side-effects," he said.

"Drugs could be designed which target the causes of the illness rather than merely controlling symptoms."

The initial phase of this study looked at 535 sibling pairs with schizophrenia, 85 of whom were from Australia. This phase identified several possible gene locations on chromosomes that are of interest in schizophrenia research.

Dr Mowry said the goal for the second phase of the research is to recruit 4500 individuals with schizophrenia, 700 of whom would be from Australia.

In addition the study aims to recruit a similar number of people who have never experienced schizophrenia as a control group. This second phase will further explore the already identified chromosomal regions, as well as several other genes implicated in worldwide research.

Through this and subsequent research, Dr Mowry anticipates that genes which play a role in the development of schizophrenia will be identified within the next five years.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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