Nose neurons offer scent of schizophrenia Dx possibility

Harvesting neurons from the nose through a routine biopsy could allow for a speedy, accurate way to definitively diagnose schizophrenia in living patients, scientists from Tel Aviv University in Israel and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, have discovered.

Their finding, detailed in the journal Neurobiology of Disease, is only the first step of a series of clinical tests before this becomes a viable diagnostic approach. But it is a big accomplishment all the same. This new approach could allow for an earlier diagnosis before the disease has fully developed, researcher Noam Shomron said in a statement, enabling sooner and potentially more effective treatment options. The team hopes the diagnostic tool, which relies on relatively quick microRNA profiling, could even allow doctors to postpone the onset of full symptoms by treating the disease on the early side.

That would be a big advance over the current standard of care. Right now, the only way doctors can make a definitive schizophrenia diagnosis is by testing neuron cells (which contain biomarkers for the disease) after a patient dies. Doctors rely on psychological evaluations, which often take place long after symptoms have erupted and are harder to treat.

For their study, the research team used olfactory neurons harvested from the upper part of the inner nodes in patients who had schizophrenia and a control group that was free of the disease. By using high-throughput technology to analyze the biopsies, they spotted a specific microRNA that patients with the disease carried at much higher levels.

Researchers are looking at a number of ways to identify schizophrenia earlier and treat it sooner. Experts at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy and colleagues have identified a number of new biomarkers that diagnose a high risk of developing schizophrenia, offering many new potential drug targets for treatment.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract