A blood test for diagnosing schizophrenia — the most serious form of mental illness — could be available this year, according to an article in the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS’ weekly newsmagazine. The disorder, with symptoms that can include hallucinations and delusional thoughts, affects more than two million people in the United States and millions more worldwide.
C&EN Senior Editor Celia Henry Arnaud mentions the test as one part of a much broader discussion of how scientists are using non-brain cells to study schizophrenia in an attempt to speed the identification of biomarkers of the disease and develop new diagnostic tests. She notes that schizophrenia does not just involve the brain, but also abnormal levels of certain proteins that appear in other parts of the body. The article highlights groundbreaking research by a group of scientists in the United Kingdom indicating that 40 percent of the chemical changes in the brains of schizophrenia patients also occur in other body parts. The U.K. scientists are studying these biomarkers in the skin, immune cells, and blood of patients to provide a real-time picture of the disease. Most previous studies, in contrast, were done with brain tissue taken from patients after death, the article notes.
The scientists have already identified several schizophrenia biomarkers in the blood and are working with a company that plans to launch a blood test for diagnosing schizophrenia in 2010. The test could help confirm diagnoses made on the basis of psychiatric evaluations and allow earlier diagnosis so that patients can be treated earlier.