INDIANAPOLIS, IN — A team of researchers led by Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine faculty has developed a new blood test for schizophrenia, a psychiatric disorder that includes hallucinations and delusions. The new test identifies biomarkers in a person’s blood that can objectively measure their current severity and future risk for schizophrenia and also match them to treatments that will be most effective for their body type.
“Schizophrenia is hard to diagnose, especially early on, and matching people to the right treatment from the beginning is very important,” said Alexander Niculescu, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and medical neuroscience at the IU School of Medicine, staff psychiatrist and investigator at the Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Administration Medical Center in Indianapolis and senior author on the study. “Psychosis usually manifests in young adulthood—a prime period of life. Stress and drugs, including marijuana, are precipitating factors on a background of genetic vulnerability. If left unchecked, psychosis leads to accumulating biological, social, and psychological damage.”
In a study published in Molecular Psychiatry, the researchers tested psychiatric patients that they followed for over a decade. They identified biomarkers that were predictive of high hallucinations and high delusional states, as well as potential psychiatric hospitalizations related to hallucinations and delusions. They also studied which biomarkers are targets of existing drugs; this enabled the matching of patients to the right treatments.
Niculescu said, in general, the best biomarkers were more predictive than the standard scales used to evaluate someone with hallucinations or delusions, which means the use of this biomarker test can help reduce subjectivity and uncertainty from psychiatric assessments.
“Fortunately, biologically some of the existing medications work quite well if initiated early in the right patients,” Niculescu said. “Social support is also paramount, and once that and medications are in place, psychological support and therapy can help as well. There is still plenty left to understand and apply about cognition and its abnormalities, but there is reason for optimism in this era of emerging precision psychiatry.”
- This press release was originally published on the Indiana University School of Medicine website