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Schizophrenia - a breakthrough?

At MQ we believe one simple thing: with research comes knowledge. And with knowledge comes the hope that we can improve treatments and transform lives. And today we have cause for hope.

A group of researchers working on schizophrenia have made a promising discovery. And in their words,their findings could completely change our current understanding of the illness.

Schizophrenia is common – affecting around 1 in every 100 people in the UK. It is one of the leading causes of disability in adults. And it can be deadly. Those affected by schizophrenia die, on average, 20 years earlier than those who do not have the disease.

All in all, schizophrenia can be devastating, and we desperately need better treatments. Today, findings by researchers funded by the Medical Research and King’s College London could take us one step closer to making that possible.

So what has the research found?

All of us have immune cells in our brain, which are known as microglia. These cells perform a range of jobs, and essentially, make sure that our brains are connected properly by ‘pruning’ connections.

But the research found that, the more severe someone’s schizophrenia symptoms are, the more active these immune cells will be in their brain. The researchers think the microglia become like a gardener too keen with the shears and sever the wrong connections in the brain leaving it wired incorrectly.

Brain scans show higher levels of microglia activity (orange) in people with schizophrenia ©MRC

Why does this matter?

The scientists and researchers involved say this will give us a far better understanding of what activity in the brain is linked to schizophrenia.

And if scientists know what areas of the brain are linked to schizophrenia – the areas where there is ‘inflammation’ – they may know what areas to target with medication and treatment.

With this new found knowledge comes “the hope of life-changing treatments”, or even prevention of the disorders altogether.

More research is needed, and we don’t have answers yet. But we will get there one day. We will find ways to improve the lives of everyone with a mental illness.

Read more about this study and it’s findings on the Medical Research Council website.

Last updated: 20 June 2016

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