New gene discovery could help schizophrenics

Over one thousand people in Northern Ireland have been involved in the study carried out by Dr Tony O’Neill from the School of Medicine and Dentistry and two professors from Virginia Commonwealth University.

A mental disorder which is known to have a strong genetic component, schizophrenia is associated with disturbed thinking and hallucinations.

It typically starts in late adolescence, and can have a devastating effect on sufferers and carers.

The discovery of the gene, MEGF10, which is associated with severe schizophrenia, could be a step in the right direction towards helping those affected.

The study found abnormally high levels of the gene in a region of the brain previously shown to be linked to the condition by Dr O’Neill and his colleagues.

Dr O’Neill, from the Department of Psychiatry at Queen’s, said: “This further finding helps piece together the complex picture underlying risk to schizophrenia and offers the hope of more successful interventions in the future.

“We are beginning to understand how difficulties with the developing brain can compromise important brain systems leading to the bewildering and distressful symptoms of schizophrenia. It is a really exciting time for psychiatric research.”

The study is the latest in a series of publications resulting from a 20 year collaboration between Queen’s and Virginia Commonwealth University.

The group was the first to identify Dysbindin, the first risk gene for schizophrenia. That finding was described as the most important in psychiatry for 20 years and was replicated in many other populations.

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