Research Shows OCD Can be Treated with Bone Marrow Transplant

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Mario Capecchi, a professor of human genetics at the University of Utah School of Medicine has discovered that bone marrow transplants could help with the mental disorder obsessive-compulsive disorder. (OCD)

Capecchi who won a Nobel Prize for medicine in 2007 for his work on mouse genetics states that compulsive behavior doesn't just affect people. In fact, he had a lab mouse who was suffering from the condition trichotillomania, where one pulls their own hair out. Scientists say it was the mouse that led to the ground-breaking discovery as they found a way to cure him.

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"There's a direct correlation, in essence, between the immune system and behavior," Capecchi says.
"All animals spend a lot of time grooming, and what they're doing is removing pathogens," explained Capecchi, "They're not getting the feedback that says, 'Oh, my hands are clean. I can stop.'" Capecchi wondered if the disorder goes beyond psychology, and is the result of faulty immune cells.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as handwashing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away.

Capecchi says scientists have known for years that there is a connection between behavior and the immune system, but they didn't quite understand it. Now he and his team have discovered it all has to do with a tiny cell called microglia. Microglia were believed to be "scavenger cells" that would clean up damage in the brain, but Capecchi says the cells are much more powerful than they were letting on. "What we're saying is microglia are much more sophisticated and are actually controlling behavior, and they have to do it by interacting the nerve cells in your brain," states Capecchi.

The researchers used a procedure on the mouse that's commonly practiced on cancer patients which was a bone marrow transplant. "That cured the disease permanently," Capecchi says. "All the hair grew back, all the lesions were healed, and the mouse no longer removes the body hair."
Capecchi says this new discovery could lead to cures for mental disorders from autism to schizophrenia.

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