A new study led by a Western University professor may alter current views on schizophrenia: instead of one gene causing the disorder, there may be multiple.
Shiva Singh, a Western genetics professor leading the study, said there is currently no known cure for schizophrenia, and since the disorder has a wide range of symptoms, most people cycle through symptom-based medication to find one that works for them. The problem is that there is no targeted treatment that is patient specific.
Singh and Richard O'Reilly, a Western psychology professor, teamed up with Christina Castellani of Johns Hopkins University to research the genetic origins of schizophrenia. Clinical and Translational Medicine recently published the team's findings, and the research will allow doctors to find specific treatments to treat the pathways that are affected by schizophrenia.
“Schizophrenia has a genetics linkage; there is no single gene linkage that causes schizophrenia, and therefore, no two people affected will have an identical cause,” Singh said.
By mapping a patients' genome, researchers can create personalized medicine to treat the deficient pathway rather than the symptoms.
“We are focusing on patient-based treatment rather than disease-based treatment,” Singh said.
But mapping genomes is still very expensive, costing around $4,000 per test.
Singh's proposal, which was rejected at first, stated that identical twins can be different at the genetic level due to environmentally caused mutations.
“People laughed at it and thought that identical twins could never be different genetically,” Singh said.
In 2010, Singh proved that identical twins can have different genetics, which creates a fundamental change in how we see genetics. This allowed him to continue with this study.
However, the most difficult aspect of this study was finding a pair of twins where one had schizophrenia and the other did not.
In Canada, schizophrenia affects approximately one in 100 people; however, in twins, when one twin has schizophrenia, the other twin has a one in two chance of also having the illness.
“It is practically impossible to run into this on a random basis,” Singh said. “It took 20 years and a worldwide search to find our two candidates.”
O'Reilly found the twins, and they were an integral part to understanding the effects of schizophrenia.
Singh's research may lead to further studies that will shed light on the way mental illnesses are treated.