Researchers Link Gene Mutation To Schizophrenia

This week researchers at Trinity College Dublin and the University of California, San Diego, announced they've identified a gene mutation that's strongly linked to schizophrenia. Host Guy Raz speaks with Jonathan Sebat, one of the researchers who worked on the project.

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GUY RAZ, host:

In a few minutes on the program, the story of a well-known foreign correspondent who survived some of the most dangerous places in the world. But the biggest challenge of Patrick Cockburn's life was coping with his son Henry's schizophrenia.

Just this week, researchers at Trinity College, Dublin and the University of California, San Diego announced that they've identified a gene mutation that's strongly linked to schizophrenia. And one of those researchers was Jonathan Sebat.

Professor JONATHAN SEBAT (Genetics, University of California, San Diego): We found that patients with schizophrenia, a subset of them, have extra copies of the gene Viper 2. And these are extremely rare in the general population, so this is a strong association. And when you look in the blood samples of these patients, and you measure the levels of the gene's expression, you can see that there are increased levels of the gene itself - and it looks like the volume is turned up on the entire pathway.

RAZ: In a few minutes, we're going to hear from British reporter Patrick Cockburn, who wrote a book with his son Henry, about Henry's struggle with schizophrenia. It's a really amazing story. Tell me what your study could lead to in terms of helping people like Henry.

Prof. SEBAT: Well, the first antipsychotics were developed in the 1950s, but little has really developed beyond the original drugs. So, the field is in desperate need for new types of antipsychotics that are more effective and better tolerated by patients. And so, you know, finding new targets for drug development is extremely exciting.

RAZ: What kind of time frame are we looking at?

Mr. SEBAT: Drugs take years to develop, but we're optimistic that the process can begin soon.

RAZ: That's Jonathan Sebat. He's a researcher at the University of California, San Diego. He was part of a team that identified a gene mutation strongly linked to schizophrenia.

Stay tuned to one story of how one family coped with the illness. That's in a moment on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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