Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder which affects 1 in every 100 people throughout the world. In the majority of cases, schizophrenia isn’t detected and diagnosed until symptoms are experienced such as hallucinations and delusions, usually within the adolescent years or early adulthood. The problem is that by this time, the disease has had the chance to progress to a point where it makes it very difficult to treat.
Recently, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Columbia University have researched and found evidence proving that the brain abnormalities linked with schizophrenia and the risk of having the disease can actually be detected within a few weeks of being born.
According to professor of psychiatry and director of the Schizophrenia Research center, John Gilmore, this newfound information allows professionals to begin thinking about the best way to identify children that are at risk for schizophrenia at a very early age and also allows time to decide the best approach for reducing this risk or treating the issue before symptoms even occur.
In order to uncover this information, researchers used MRI exams and other ultrasound procedures to examine the brain development of 26 infants whose mothers suffer from schizophrenia. The risk of having schizophrenia if an immediate relative suffers from the disease increases to 1 in 10. In boys, it was found that the babies at high-risk had noticeably larger brains as well as larger lateral ventricles which are the spaces in the brain filled with fluid, when compared to babies with no direct genetic link with a psychiatric disease.
Studies that have been conducted on babies also have shown that a larger brain is correlated with autism as well. The female babies in this study showed no different in brain size. However, this does not necessarily mean that the study is inaccurate since schizophrenia is much more common in males.
These results are not concrete evidence toward the theory, but do suggest that it is something that should be studied further. Therefore, the findings of this study do not automatically mean that boys born with a larger brain are doomed to suffer from schizophrenia. In studies of relatives of those with schizophrenia, regardless of age, there have been abnormalities in their brains however; they do not have any symptoms of the disease.
The study is intended to continue long-term and therefore is not complete. Researchers plan to continue to monitor these children and measure their brain development as time goes on. They will also be tracking the language, motor, and memory skills of the children. The sample size is also going to be increased as researchers recruit more women into the study.
The results of this study are simply the first indication that it may be possible to detect schizophrenia early in life by examining brain abnormalities in babies. If early detection is possible, doctors will then be able to come up with ways to prevent these children from ever developing the symptoms of the disease.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.
Medical News Today. 2010. Brain Signs of Schizophrenia Found in Babies. www.medicalnewstoday.com