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QIMR: Finding genes for schizophrenia

There is good evidence that genes play an important role in causing schizophrenia. The disease prevalence is higher among blood relatives than non-related people and males are affected more frequently than females. A front runner in the search for schizophrenia genes is the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research (QCMHR), a Queensland Health research unit, whose genetics lab group is based at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR). The QIMR group has a number of projects underway in a framework of national and international collaborations.

The QCMHR are currently undertaking detailed diagnostic interviewing of family members, and blood sampling (for genetic analysis in the QIMR laboratory) from diverse populations as well as ethnic groups. “Isolated ethnic groups, along with Australian samples of identical twins, sibling pairs, and other family configurations in which someone has schizophrenia are important populations for genetic research because it is likely that in these populations the search for genes will be simplified.” said Honorary Principal Research Fellow at QIMR, Dr Bryan Mowry.

Data to date suggest that there is no single gene for schizophrenia. Instead there are multiple genes involved, each exerting a small to moderate effect on disease risk. These interact with environmental factors in the early stages of an individual’s development to produce vulnerability to the illness.

Together with other groups around the world, QIMR scientists have identified some of these potential candidate genes, and are in the process of testing them with new samples to validate those already identified. Advances in technology and the knowledge now accumulated will advance and intensify the hunt for schizophrenia disease genes in the immediate future.