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Scientific Breakthroughs in Schizophrenia


Breakthroughs in Schizophrenia Are We Emotionally Ready?

By Joe Cornelio, AU Graduate Advocate

On April 29 I went to a presentation at Hartford Hospital, Institute of Living sponsored by NAMI-CT. There were three presentations that morning, one by Carolyn Spiro and Pam Wagner on the history of mental illness, one by Dr. Scott Woods on predicting schizophrenia, and one by Dr. Gualberto Ruano on using DNA to predict side effects of schizophrenia medications such as weight gain. The first presentation about a twin sister's struggle with schizophrenia was very emotional, both for the presenters and for the audience. Dr. Woods, a researcher at Yale University, talked about his screening test in trial at www.schizophrenia.com to detect schizophrenia in the prodromal phase. Prodromal is the scientific word for when symptoms start but before the full effects of schizophrenia develop. I remember my prodromal phase very well. I was one year out of college and had an exciting job as an engineer when I didn't feel right. A year and a half and two jobs later I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. With today's medications and the development of screening tests for schizophrenia, if I was brave enough to take the test, I might have kept my first job.

Early diagnosis is changing medicine in two ways, emotionally and financially. Emotionally, the advances in science are making us face our illnesses earlier. Some may say they don't want to know their diagnosis, even today some diagnoses do not have good treatments. I believe it's a part of being human to face and work through medical adversity. By knowing our medical future, we can make the best of our lives, whatever they may be. This is also why we must fight to change the emotional stigma of schizophrenia.

Financially, being able to work with schizophrenia, even part time, makes people less dependent on the government and lets people live more fulfilling lives. Reducing the number of days in the hospital saves Medicare and insurance companies money. Though people and organizations will fight over what to do with the savings, what to do with the savings is a nice problem to have. Advocacy Unlimited will help us keep informed and teach us to advocate for ourselves in the Connecticut legislature. I hope that some of the savings is reinvested in research.

The third presenter, Dr. Gualberto Ruano, president of Genomas, www.genomas.net, does genetic research on side effects of medications for schizophrenia. According to Dr. Ruano, all medicines in the blood stream need to by metabolized, broken down, in the liver and kidneys. When the liver or kidneys can not break down a medication, side effects such as weight gain in schizophrenia, occur. Relating weight gain and other side effects to DNA is fascinating and very complex research. From this research, a blood test can be used to identify the DNA in a person and predict if a medication will cause weight gain.

The US Food and Drug Administration is very interested in this approach to predicting side effects. Side effects are expensive, can limit productivity, and can even cause long term disability. Prescribing medication based on a blood test along with psychiatric observation is more accurate and less costly than the present trial and error method. Patients would know of the weight gain problem in advance and can emotionally prepare for the medication decisions they may face.

We aren't the only group facing this new information. Parents face new tests for prenatal conditions, there are new tests for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases. By not being afraid, by taking the lead in embracing these new tests and working with our doctors, people with schizophrenia can set a positive example for the medical future of our nation. I urge you to follow the exciting research of Dr. Ruano, Dr. Woods and other schizophrenia researchers here in Connecticut.

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