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£1 million to identify genomic changes in schizophrenia

  • Date

    Fri 6 Oct 17

DNA molecule

Essex is taking part in a £1 million Medical Research Council project to investigate how and why schizophrenia develops.

Scientists have long known that schizophrenia, which usually becomes evident during adolescence or in young adulthood, has its origins in the brain before birth. 

Professor Leonard Schalkwyk from our School of Biological Sciences is part of a team led by the University of Exeter. The team will use cutting-edge DNA sequencing technology funded by a previous Medical Research Council grant to explore patterns of gene activity in the brain as it grows and develops, and the role that changes in these patterns play in schizophrenia. They will also profile a unique collection of post-mortem brain tissue donated by patients with schizophrenia from around the world.

Professor Schalkwyk said: “Genetic studies of schizophrenia have been successful in identifying many genes that each make a tiny difference to risk, but there is still a huge challenge in figuring out how this works. We still have a very limited understanding of the biological causes of the illness via genetics and environment. Our ongoing epigenetic studies offer an additional angle of attack on this problem.”

Professor Leonard Schalkwyk
"Genetic studies of schizophrenia have been successful in identifying many genes that each make a tiny difference to risk, but there is still a huge challenge in figuring out how this works."
Professor Leonard Schalkwyk School of Biological Sciences

Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric disorder, characterised by psychotic symptoms, delusions and hallucinations, disorganisation, dysfunctional affective responses, and altered brain functioning. The social and economic consequences of schizophrenia are severe, eclipsing those of many other illnesses. Schizophrenia ranks among the top ten causes of disability in developed countries worldwide.

Dr Rachael Panizzo, programme manager for mental health and addiction at the Medical Research Council, said: “Mental health continues to be a priority for the MRC and our Strategy for Lifelong Mental Health Research sets out how we will achieve our vision of accelerating our understanding of mental disorders and the development of new and more effective treatments. 

“We are committed to funding world-class researchers and exciting discovery science in mental health. Exploring the role our genes play in mental disorders such as schizophrenia could reveal new opportunities to treat and prevent mental illness.”