Curing Schizophrenia: How Long Must We Wait?

Groundbreaking research by scientists working at the Scripps Research Institute might have a major impact on how mental disorders like schizophrenia are treated in the near future.

Professor Jerald Chun, the chief researcher behind the study, found that a specific molecule causes changes in the brain that result in the mental disorders schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and autism. With this potential cause identified, new treatments can now be developed that can change the face of modern psychiatric medicine.

The Schizophrenia Molecule

The Scripps study found that Lysophosphatidic acid (LPA), which is produced during a brain hemorrhage, can alter a fetus’ cerebral architecture and induce hydrocephalus, a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain that can cause serious mental disabilities. By injecting fetal lab mice with LPA, the researchers found that their test subjects developed schizophrenia-like symptoms 10 weeks after being born. While years of testing, experimentation and review is still needed before new treatments can be implemented, the study’s illuminating results should be heartening for the 21 million people who are living with schizophrenia today.

What is Schizophrenia?

Although records of patients suffering from confused thinking, extreme paranoia and auditory and visual hallucinations have existed since the Middle Ages, the disorder we now call schizophrenia was not codified until the early 19th century and was not included in medical textbooks until the 1880s. The term itself was coined in 1908 by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuer and the disease was long considered to be hereditary defect. Throughout out its history, schizophrenia has been controversial, as many mental health professionals have argued about which symptoms are definitively schizophrenic, and the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists no objective test for the disorder. Since schizophrenia does not typically manifest itself until late adolescence, sufferers are usually prescribed with a course anti-psychotic drugs and regularly counseling to treat its symptoms.  

Why the Study is Big News

One of the reasons the Scripps study is so important is that suggests a possible cause for diseases like schizophrenia and autism, which have traditionally thought to have been incited by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The study also suggests that if fetal brain hemorrhages are found early enough, late mental illnesses may be prevented altogether. As Professor Chug stated in an interview with Medical Xpress, “This new model speaks to how schizophrenia could arise before birth and identifies possible novel drug targets.”

What the Future Holds

The Scripps Research Institute’s discovery is a big deal and may have a massive impact on how a number of mental illnesses are treated, and even cured, in the future, but a silver bullet pill is still a ways away. In 2011, pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb purchased Amira Pharmaceuticals, Inc. for $325 million. The small molecule research company was bought out because it developed AM152, an LPA receptor antagonist designed to combat idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and other fibrotic diseases that have successfully completed Phase 1 clinical studies. If the drug passes through the other four Phases, which involve clinical trials on successively larger groups of patients and typically lasts between 10 to 15 years, it’ll be made available for cancer patients. Given the revelations of the Scripps study, AM152 or similar medications mightbe prescribed to treat fetal cerebral hemorrhages. In essence, we might be looking at the end of schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and autism in our lifetimes.