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Team discovers a lack of new brain cells in people with schizophrenia

COVID-19 is having a massive impact on how we all live. As we come to terms with staying at home and dealing with the loss of daily interactions with friends and family, we should not forget some people experience isolation and social loss every day of their adult lives.

People suffering from schizophrenia face the sad reality that social distancing measures will not be lifted for them, at least not without our help.

Some say the only way societies can only “return to normal” is once researchers have developed a vaccine for COVID-19. Naturally, everyone is rallying behind those scientists with increased funding and public support in the hope that a vaccine will come soon.

In contrast, the battle experienced by those with schizophrenia is not new and there is currently no end.

Research into this terrible illness is underfunded and there is a constant struggle to get public support because of the stigma associated with schizophrenia.

This is why NeuRA celebrates every stone we unturn that improves our understanding of schizophrenia. New knowledge could one day lead to better treatment, or perhaps even a cure.

A team led by NeuRA’s Professor Cyndi Shannon Weickert has discovered that people with schizophrenia have compromised neurogenesis – in other words, their ability to create new brain cells is faulty.

The team, which includes PhD students Christin Weissleder and Hayley North, compared the brains of people with schizophrenia with the brains of healthy adults to make their discovery.

“Without the ability to develop new cells, the plasticity of the brain is compromised. As a result, the brain is less able to change and rewire, making learning, memory and emotional regulation very difficult. The likelihood of these individuals developing cognitive deficits and, unsurprisingly, mental health disorders, is high,” said Professor Shannon Weickert.

“While our cognitive performance declines as we get older, the implication for people with schizophrenia is that their brain ages at an accelerated rate. This can leave a person with schizophrenia who is in their thirties with a brain that functions like someone up to two decades older.”

The research team is now exploring how to put this new knowledge to best use to help those living with schizophrenia.