"We were able to narrow down the microRNA to a differentially expressed set, and from there down to a specific microRNA which is elevated in individuals with the disease compared to healthy individuals," explains Dr. Shomron. Further research revealed that this particular microRNA controls genes associated with the generation of neurons.
In practice, material for biopsy could be collected through a quick and easy outpatient procedure, using a local anesthetic, says Dr. Shomron. And with microRNA profiling results ready in a matter of hours, this method could evolve into a relatively simple and accurate test to diagnose a very complicated illness.
Early detection, early intervention
Though there is much more to investigate, Dr. Shomron has high hopes for this diagnostic method. It's important to determine whether this alteration in microRNA expression begins before schizophrenic symptoms begin to exhibit themselves, or only after the disease fully develops, he says. If this change comes near the beginning of the timeline, it could be invaluable for early diagnostics. This would mean early intervention, better treatment, and possibly even the postponement of symptoms.
If, for example, a person has a family history of schizophrenia, this test could reveal whether they too suffer from the disease. And while such advanced warning doesn't mean a cure is on the horizon, it will help both patient and doctor identify and prepare for the challenges ahead.
|Contact: George Hunka|
American Friends of Tel Aviv University