Cardiff University identifies ‘risk gene’ associated with schizophrenia

Scientists from Cardiff University have identified a ‘risk gene’ associated with schizophrenia, pointing to one of the possible causes of the illness.

The Cardiff Medical School research group, led by Professor Michael O’Donovan, Nick Craddock and Michael Owen, looked at DNA samples from over 7,000 people with schizophrenia and almost 13,000 people without the illness.

Professor O’Donovan said: “We looked for common changes in the genetic code that were more frequent in people with schizophrenia than people without it. Among the genes we found, the evidence for the gene called ZNF804A was particularly strong.

“We now need to determine the identity of the genes that it can switch on and off. Finding out which ones are regulated should tell us a lot about what biochemical disturbances result in disease, and provide further vital clues into the origins of schizophrenia and hopefully, new ways of treating it.”

Commenting on the Cardiff University research, Bill Walden-Jones, Chief Executive of Welsh mental health charity Hafal, said: “Our Members – many of whom have schizophrenia – are very proud of the fact that a Welsh University has a leading global role studying genetics in relation to mental illness and are very interested in the latest findings.

“Hafal Members have been pleased to support the University in its research and have just made a further commitment to assist with research in this important area.

“I’m sure our friends and colleagues at the University would be the first to agree that mental illness is complex. Our Members believe there probably are genetic causes that make people predisposed to mental illness, but that there are a number of other factors including life experiences that can trigger mental illness. It’s important to consider all of these causes in relation to people’s health, as the complexity of mental illness demands sophisticated answers.

“Hafal’s Recovery Programme recognises that a number of factors – from medication to psychotherapy, from employment to housing – contribute to mental health. This broader, holistic approach needs to be taken into account at all times when discussing what creates, and what prevents, mental illness.”

Truck Johnstone, a Hafal client and service user from Swansea, said: “I really welcome this research. It’s important to understand why people like myself develop mental illnesses like schizophrenia.

“But for me what’s most significant is researching the right treatment for schizophrenia, and that doesn’t just mean getting the medication right. It means looking at issues such as employment, therapies, physical health and education. For example, the most important thing for me was finding the right place to live.”

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