June 26 - The human nose may hold the key to diagnosing schizophrenia, according to a team of US-Israeli researchers. They say that biological markers for the disease exist in nerve cells from the upper nasal cavity near the brain, a discovery that could lead to biological diagnosis for schizophrenia and the development of drugs to treat it. Jim Drury has more.
There may be more to the human nose than meets the eye. In addition to helping us breathe and detect smells, scientists think nasal cells found close to the brain could also help doctors diagnose schizophrenia. SOUNDBITE (English) DOCTOR NOAM SHOMRON, TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY RESEARCHER, SAYING: "Mental disorders are mainly diagnosed by clinical evaluation, by a physician and its based on questionnaires and it is extremely subjective. We wanted to take a different approach." That approach by Tel Aviv University researcher Doctor Noam Shomron's team involves identifying molecular markers inside the nasal passage. In tests they extracted nerve cells from a region close to the brain, the only such cells removable without causing death. Lab tests of 25 schizophrenic patients and the same number without the condition were conducted. Three faulty gene switches were uncovered in the former, the same molecular markers found in the brain cells of deceased schizophrenia patients during autopsies. The scientists say these are the first molecular marks for schizophrenia ever found in live patients. If further research can reveal the molecules' functions, it might lead to a biological diagnosis of schizophrenia. SOUNDBITE (English) DOCTOR NOAM SHOMRON, TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY RESEARCHER, SAYING: "Our goal is to simplify genetic disorders mainly of the brain in order to identify clear markers indicating where this individual is healthy or diseased." Doctor Mark Weiser, chief psychiatrist at Tel Aviv's Sheba Medical Center, is also encouraged. SOUNDBITE (English) DOCTOR MARK WEISER, CHAIRMAN OF PSYCHIATRY AT TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY AND CHIEF PSYCHIATRIST AT SHEBA MEDICAL CENTER, SAYING: "This has to all be taken very carefully and very conservatively, we are talking about people's lives here but if in fact this replicates and if this finding of the MicroRNA which are present in patients with schizophrenia and or their levels are significantly higher in patients with schizophrenia and lower in controls this could be a huge breakthrough." Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder that affects around one percent of the world population. Its most common symptoms are delusions and hallucination. The study remains in its early stages but researchers say it could one day lead to early therapeutic intervention, improving the outcomes for many patients.