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A New Approach to Schizophrenia?

By Bob Carolla, Director of Communications

Medical science usually advances slowly and incrementally, with occasional, if not frequent missteps. So it would be premature to get too excited about a recent study reported in Nature magazine, "Schizophrenia in a dish."

Still, the possibilities are fascinating.

The article describes experiments in which neuroscientists were able to turn skin cells donated by four individuals living with schizophrenia into brain cells-neurons-to in order to explore potential causes of the disease. Following the transformation, the new cells showed fewer connections-synapses-than brain cells from people without the disease. However, tests still showed that the cells would conduct electrical impulses as well as the others.

A Fox News report on the study points to advances which might result from the research: the ability to isolate biological factors from environmental "triggers" in seeking to identify the causes of schizophrenia and "individualized medicine" in which drugs could be tested first for their effect on a particular person without the person having to try it out direct. The "lab dish" method might also be issued for other mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder.

According to one scientist, Nature reported, most antipsychotic drugs used today for schizophrenia all target the same dopamine receptor. Speculatively, the experiments might lead to new or broader approaches in biological treatment.

But there's a major caveat: The differences between the brain cells derived from people living with schizophrenia and those without the disease could be the result of the cell transformation itself-rather than the illness. For the moment, the study represents only a starting point.