Singapore researchers help to identify new genes associated with schizophrenia

SINGAPORE- Researchers here have contributed to a global study which has identified 83 genes associated with the risk of developing schizophrenia, which could mean earlier detection or new cures for the illness in the long run.

Current medications treat the symptoms of schizophrenia but do not address the causes. Treatment options are limited because the biological causes of schizophrenia have not been understood, said the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), where the five Singapore researchers involved are from.

"The latest findings point to biological mechanisms and pathways that underlie schizophrenia and could lead to new approaches to treating the disorder, which has seen little innovation in drug development for more than 60 years," said Adjunct Associate Professor Sim Kang of IMH, who took part in the study.

It is currently hard to detect schizophrenia early because symptoms such as mood swings and loss of appetite may be mild. Clinicians usually diagnose schizophrenia at a later stage when the patient suffers from hallucination, paranoia and mental breakdowns.

But the findings could lead to early detection which would save them much pain. "A better understanding of the genetic mechanism and underlying brain changes could potentially allow earlier detection of the illness and better treatment as it progresses," Prof Sim said.

The study compared more than 80,000 genetic samples from schizophrenia patients and healthy volunteers and is believed to be the largest genomic study on any psychiatric disorder to date. It involved more than 300 researchers from 30 countries who pooled together data for the research.

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