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Brain scans may help predict schizophrenia


First published: December 23, 2010, 4:14 PM IST | Updated: December 23, 2010
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Brain scans may help predict schizophrenia
Simple brain scans can help predict the onset of schizophrenia in young people.

New Delhi: Simple brain scans can help predict the onset of schizophrenia in young people with a family history of the disease, scientists have claimed.

A team from the University of Edinburgh found that the brains of people who go on to develop schizophrenia suffer from an accelerated shrinking before they become unwell.

Schizophrenia, which affects one in every 100 people, is characterised by delusions and hallucinations. It is associated with a reduction in brain tissue but researchers said the timing of these changes has, until now, been unclear.

According to the scientists, their discovery which is the result of a decade-long research marked a "significant step" forward and could help medics diagnose and treat the condition at an earlier stage.

"This study represents the culmination of more than 10 years of work and is a significant step to understanding the origins of schizophrenia years before the onset of disability and medical treatment," Dr Andrew McIntosh of the university's psychiatry division was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

For their study, the team looked at the brain scans of 146 people, aged between 16 and 25, with a family history of schizophrenia, but who had not yet experienced any symptoms,and compared them to scans of 36 people with no such risk.

The scans were taken every 18 months over a 10-year period.The university said it is the first time that such changes in the brain size have been found in people at high risk of schizophrenia before they develop any symptoms.

Unlike previous studies, these changes cannot be due to medication because all of the people in the study were not using medication when they took part, it said.

In healthy people, the brain begins to shrink from early adulthood onwards. It is known that accelerated shrinking of the brain occurs in people with manic depression and schizophrenia, but before now it was not known whether these
changes happen.