There is no single test for schizophrenia; its diagnosis relies on assessments from mental health experts. But now, a new study claims a blood test could determine who is at high risk of schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis, allowing earlier treatment and better outcomes.
The research team, including Dr. Diana O. Perkins of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, publish their findings in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin.
Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder that affects around 24 million people worldwide, the equivalent to 7 people in every 1,000. The condition is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, dysfunctional thoughts and agitated body movements.
It is well established that the earlier a patient receives treatment for schizophrenia, the better the outcome. According to Dr. Perkins and colleagues, this suggests that treatment during the prodromal phase of the illness – when symptoms first appear – could reduce the risk of severe symptoms or disability.
But the team notes that a barrier to early treatment for schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis is the inability to identify who is at highest risk for the conditions. Could their study findings break down this barrier?
Past studies, the researchers say, have indicated that patients with schizophrenia have abnormal levels of markers of inflammation, oxidative stress, metabolism and hormones.
With this in mind, the team analyzed blood samples of 32 patients with symptoms that suggested a high risk for psychosis, alongside blood samples of 35 control subjects. They wanted to see whether presence of the aforementioned markers could predict which subjects went on to develop psychosis.
All participants were clinically assessed every 6 months and were followed for up to 2 years.
The team found that among the 32 patients at high risk of psychosis, they were accurately able to identify those who went on to develop psychosis through the presence of 15 specific markers, or analytes, in their blood.
Of these patients, 14 had schizophrenia, 13 had unspecified psychosis, two had major depression with psychotic features, one had bipolar disorder, one had schizoaffective disorder and one had delusional disorder.
Commenting on their findings, Dr. Perkins says:
“While further research is required before this blood test could be clinically available, these results provide evidence regarding the fundamental nature of schizophrenia, and point toward novel pathways that could be targets for preventative interventions.”
The researchers note it is crucial that this blood test is used to assess other patients at high risk of psychosis in order to assess its reproducibility.
“More work is needed, however, as there are likely many other combinations of analytes with utility in psychosis risk prediction, and a blood assay could be combined with other clinical, imaging, or electrophysiological measures associated with progression to psychosis in clinical high-risk subjects,” they add.
Overall, they conclude that their findings show promise in identifying new targets for psychosis prevention and highlight the need for more research in this field.
Medical News Today recently reported on a study claiming schizophrenia is made up of eight specific genetic disorders, rather than being a single disease.