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Schizophrenia: Latest Medical Breakthroughs

Monday, 21 Mar 2011 02:03 PM

Schizophrenia is not very common, but this mental disease affects its victims profoundly. This mental disease, which  affects thought, perception, decisions and therefore behavior, has so far remained incurable, partly because the exact cause of the condition is not known. Several doctors attribute the disease to genetic factors, and to birth- and gestational complications. Ever since the ‘50s and ‘60s, this disorder is being treated symptomatically.
Newer  treatment modules are now being researched, and the following represent and offer hopes for  medical breakthroughs:
  1. Till recently, patients experienced a range of severe side effects due to antipsychotic medication. However, new drugs like INVEGA(TM) (paliperidone) extended-release tablets are now approved for patient use by the FDA.
  2. Another medical breakthrough has been made thanks to research on neural pathways, at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Strong neural networks are essential to logical thinking, and a brain protein, Kalirin, is required to boost the formation of neural networks. Lab tests at Feinberg have found schizophrenics have a very low level of Kalirin. This has triggered schizophrenia treatment research involving replacement of the Kalirin protein.
  3. Recent research has indicated most schizophrenia symptoms are due to genetic mutations on the SHANK3 gene. This finding is a strong medical breakthrough that argues for the possibility of finding a cure to the disease.
  4. Healthy brain cells can communicate with and pass messages to one another. They do this with the help of a Metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5), which relays these messages. Symptomatically at least, patients suffering from schizophrenia (and even Parkinson’s disease) would be better off if it were possible to increase the receptor’s power to send signals and messages from one cell to another. Scientists of Rockefeller University have done just that: they have identified a protein, named Norbin, which interfaces directly with glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter that plays a critical role in memory and learning, by helping the process that brain cells use to send messages to one another. The mGluR5  is active in physiological functions and scientists have found that the neuron-specific protein Norbin physically interacts with mGluR5 by increasing the surface area of the cell and thereby promoting greater communication amongst each brain cell. And when mGluR5 was reduced in laboratory mice, the rodents exhibited a schizophrenic locomotion; when Norbin was genetically deleted, it resulted in long-term depression. This finding has given scientists the neuroprotein Norbin as an important target for drugs, bringing hope through more focused delivery of therapy.
The above are rays of hope in the struggle for a medical breakthrough to treat schizophrenia, and could pave the way for newer and better medications that could help treat or control schizophrenia symptoms.

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