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09 November 2011
A £2.3M funding boost designed to help scientists pinpoint which genes can put people at increased risk of schizophrenia has been awarded to a team of leading University scientists.
Professor Mike Owen and Professor Mick O’Donovan and colleagues from the School of Medicine’s MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics will receive £2.34M from the Medical Research Council (MRC) over the next five years, to try and identify molecular and cellular abnormalities that underlie schizophrenia by identifying the specific genes involved.
"It has been clear for a century that schizophrenia runs in families, and this is now known to be largely due to genes rather than the family environment. Schizophrenia is clearly a brain disease. However, the specific abnormalities in brain function that cause the disorder have not yet been identified.
"Such knowledge is likely to be required for the development of truly effective treatments," according to Professor Mike Owen, School of Medicine, who will co-direct the research with Professor O’Donovan.
"It is our belief that the best hope of identifying the molecular and cellular abnormalities that underlie schizophrenia is to identify specific genes that are involved. This has proven difficult because schizophrenia does not occur as a result of a single genetic mutation, but reflects a large number of different "risk" genes, " he added.
Schizophrenia is a severe disorder affecting approximately 1% of the population.
Sufferers experience "psychotic" symptoms, in particular delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (false perceptions) usually in the form of hearing voices. They also tend to show disturbed emotions, impairments of thinking and reasoning and bizarre behaviour.
Signs can be present from childhood, but usually the disorder is diagnosed in the late teens and early 20’s. This age of onset, combined with the facts that many patients respond poorly or not at all to current treatments, and for those that do respond, relapse is usually frequent, means that the illness typically impacts on the vast majority of an individual’s adult life.
This makes schizophrenia a major burden on the patient, their family and wider society.
Modern genetic methods are, for the first time, allowing the great majority of variation in a person’s DNA to be identified in a single experiment. Since people with schizophrenia have fewer children than average, it is likely that one class of genetic risk factor that will be important are new mutations that arise relatively frequently in the population.
Using the new techniques, the grant will help the team identify these mutations.
Professor O’Donovan added: "We are proposing to use new technology to find many more of these risk genes by obtaining the sequence of all the genes in 700 patients and their parents.
"Identifying these mutations and studying the function of the genes they affect will help us understand how schizophrenia arises and help identify molecular targets for new treatments."
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