Researchers have uncovered more than 100 genetic markers linked to developing schizophrenia – and it turns out that most of us have between 20 to 30 of them.
A sizable collaboration of researchers from around the world conducted the largest genomic mapping of any neuropsychiatric disorder to date, which included deciphering the genetic codes of more than 80,000 people. The research team identified 108 genetic markers underlying risk of developing schizophrenia, 83 of which had never been identified before.
More people are afflicted with schizophrenia than you may think – about one in every 100 of us. For sufferers of this mysterious disorder, the line between real and unreal is blurry or nonexistent. Some hear voices. Others believe they are being controlled by some powerful entity, often the government or aliens. For many, the disorder makes fitting into typical social situations nearly impossible.
The cost of treating schizophrenia is substantial–estimated at over $60 billion annually in the U.S. alone–and even the most advanced medications only treat symptoms of the disorder, not root causes.
Each of the 108 genetic markers exerts a weak effect, the researchers report, but collectively they are potent. Most of the study participants had at least 20-30 of the markers, indicating a surprisingly commonplace prevalence in the world population.
The new research findings open doors to targeted treatments for causes of schizophrenia, a possibility out of reach until now.
“The fact that we were able to detect genetic risk factors on this massive scale shows that schizophrenia can be tackled by the same approaches that have already transformed our understanding of other diseases,” said the paper’s senior author Michael O’Donovan, deputy director of the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at Cardiff University School of Medicine. “The wealth of new findings have the potential to kick-start the development of new treatments in schizophrenia, a process which has stalled for the last 60 years.”
A small but important subset of the genetic markers are active in the immune system, suggesting that autoimmune diseases may share a common link with schizophrenia. The link has been speculated for many years, but only now substantiated with solid genetic evidence.
The work was done by members the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC), a collaboration of more than 80 institutions. The group is planning to expand the research to an even larger sample of the population from around the world.
The study was published in the journal Nature.