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How do genetic risk factors impact physical health in schizophrenia?

4 July 2017

Photograph of Dr James Walters sitting at his desk

Dr James Walters has been awarded a new grant to investigate whether there is a link between genetic risk factors and physical ill-health in people with schizophrenia.

In recent years, we have gained important insights into genetic risk factors for schizophrenia. One group of important genetic factors are ‘copy number variants’ that have a substantial impact on risk of developing schizophrenia. But we don’t yet know how these factors affect specific symptoms or the physical health of someone with schizophrenia.

This project aims to link the world's largest genetic sample of people with schizophrenia with NHS and other public data collected in Wales, England and Scotland. Combining genetic, health and social data will create a valuable resource which could help answer important research questions around the relationship between genetic risk factors and physical health in people with schizophrenia.

Increasing life expectancy in schizophrenia

"People with schizophrenia have a significantly lower life expectancy than the general population, and this research could provide important insights into the physical health of a particularly high risk patient group" said Dr James Walters.

"In turn, these insights could identify groups of individuals at increased risk of serious physical illnesses, like cardiovascular disease, who can then be prioritised for further monitoring and intervention. Longer term, it could inform the development of novel approaches in genetic counseling for individuals and their families."

Dr Walters' project is being funded by MQ: Transforming Mental Health, the leading mental health research charity, as part of their Data Science programme.

“We’re delighted to be funding James' important work, which will provide vital insight into the relationship between genetics and physical health problems in schizophrenia.

It’s simply unacceptable that people with severe mental illness die 20 years younger on average than the rest of the population. But through research like James' we can change this - finding answers to improve treatments and transform lives.” said Dr Sophie Dix, Director of Research at MQ.

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