Blood Test to Predict Schizophrenia Shows Promise

Key Takeaways

  • The psychiatric disorder schizophrenia is notoriously difficult to diagnose;
  • A breakthrough blood test could make that easier, researchers say, allowing for treatment to begin; and
  • The blood test is tailored to a patient’s individual biology.

Researchers say they have developed a blood test for schizophrenia.  More than three (3) million people in the United States have schizophrenia, a disorder marked by hallucinations and delusions, or a related psychotic illness.  The new test, which is expected to be available later in 2024 from MindX Sciences, identifies markers in the blood that objectively measure a person’s risk for schizophrenia, allowing doctors to tailor treatments to their individual biology.

“Schizophrenia is hard to diagnose, especially early on, and matching people to the right treatment from the beginning is very important,” said Senior Study author Dr. Alexander Niculescu, a Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Neuroscience at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.  “Psychosis usually manifests in young adulthood — a prime period of life,” he explained in a university news release.  “Stress and drugs, including marijuana, are precipitating factors on a background of genetic vulnerability.  If left unchecked, psychosis leads to accumulating biological damage, social damage, and psychological damage.”

His team published its research on 08 FEB 2024 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

For their study, they followed psychiatric patients for more than a decade, identifying biomarkers that predicted high rates of hallucination and delusions, as well as future related hospitalizations.  They also examined which biomarkers were targets of existing drugs.  The work builds on previous studies by Niculescu, who is also a staff psychiatrist at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Indianapolis, and his colleagues over the past two decades.  They have examined blood biomarkers for other psychiatric issues, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), memory disorders and suicide risk.  In general, Niculescu said, the best biomarkers were better predictors than standard scales used to evaluate someone who has hallucinations or delusions.

“Fortunately, biologically some of the existing medications work quite well if initiated early in the right patients,” he said.  “Social support is also paramount, and once that and medications are in place, psychological support and therapy can help as well.”  While Niculescu said there is still much to learn, there is reason for optimism in this era of emerging precision psychiatry.  Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the VA.

What This Means For You

A breakthrough blood test should enable doctors to begin treating patients for schizophrenia sooner.

REFERENCE:  HealthDay News (Mental Health); 13 FEB 2024; Carole Tanzer Miller