Cracking Schizophrenia


By Peter-Shaun Tyrell

Photo courtesy of SeleneNera.

Schizophrenia affects over one percent of the American population, affecting as many minds in the appearance of anything from severe delusions to impaired social behavior.

Psychiatry at large once thought of schizophrenia as acting as a single mental illness, until geneticist Dr C. Robert Cloninger discovered with painstaking accuracy that the disease is actually eight different mental disorders acting in disharmony. In fact, Dr Cloninger uses the metaphor of an orchestra working in harmony to help identify how genes work together to create health (“harmony”) or problems (“disharmony”) as in the instance of schizophrenia.

“It’s a process called ‘epistasis’” Dr Cloninger tells the Third Eye Weekly podcast on BTR. “It means the effects of one gene depend on both the environment and the influence of other genes.”

Dr Cloninger and his team looked at 4,200 individuals with schizophrenia. The research team was looking for genetic variations which interacted with each to produce the illness. In all they found 40 clusters working together that increased the risk of up to eight mental disorders, not just one.

Although the disease can be initiated by factors like drug abuse, 80 percent of the cause is through genetics. In other words, the findings are strong enough tow greatly attribute to the treatment of the disease.

“Our method of analysis focuses on the individual,” says Cloninger. These results foreshadow a destigmatization of the disease. There could be less lumping all the sufferers together by professionals while giving a more caring and exact treatment for the person.

Dr Cloninger explains we see time as past, present, and future a linear narrative. With schizophrenia sufferers that perspective is lost and “We are discovering the genes which influence that.” Doctors in the past were not treating the cause, but rather the symptoms. So, now Dr Cloninger believes that we can restore that perspective when we take into respect the individual.

In fact, as the psychiatric geneticist notes, the people who are in more risk of schizophrenia are the relatives of noble laureates. “Scientists, artists, and schizophrenics all share some things in common with a vivid imaginations.”

However, scientists and artists ground themselves in a reality, whereas schizophrenics do not have that comparison of reality.

Into the future, several levels of tests may be necessary to examine the influence of these distinct genes. For instance, one test would see what groups of genes are doing in certain people, then isolate genes through individualization.

When a person goes to a doctor and gets treated, that doctor has to use his/her judgment based on what he/she hears in the single section of the great genetic orchestra.

For now, the discovery is just another previously undiscovered island on the genome map—but lets not bury the headline. It could be the case that through this knowledge not just schizophrenia can now be more fully understood.

“We have solved the hidden irritability problem, in that in all of medical genetics have been stuck in the past decade or so not fully able to use the fruit of the human genome project.”

For more with Dr Cloninger, check out this week’s episode of the Third Eye Weekly podcast on BreakThru Radio.