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Unraveling The Genetics of Schizophrenia

Armen Hareyan's picture


Misunderstanding abounds with schizophrenia, beginning with its name. The word "schizophrenia" is of Greek derivation and translates roughly as "split mind." Despite this derivation, schizophrenia is neither similar nor related to multiple personality disorder, yet the two illnesses are frequently confused.

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It is surprising for many to learn that schizophrenia is a common disease: some estimates predict that as much as 1% of the global population is affected. The illness typically surfaces during adolescence or early adulthood, a cruel interruption to lives in their prime. Hallucinations, delusions and paranoia conspire with the brain to disconnect sufferers from reality. Disorganized speech, thoughts and behavior emerge, as do emotional detachment and apathy, which eventually lead to social withdrawal. Those with schizophrenia grapple with a disease that typically renders them unable to function at work and in the community, and that also strains relationships with friends and family. Although treatment is successful for some, for most the course is one with relapses and only partial remission. Unfortunately, we do not understand the most basic aspects of the illness, such as what happens in the brain to trigger the disease.

Like patients with other mental illnesses, individuals with schizophrenia are stigmatized and often unfairly judged by society. They are frequently stereotyped as dangerous, violent and unpredictable, and somehow responsible for their disease. Personal accountability, however, is no greater than in diseases of the flesh, like cancer or diabetes. Conclusive evidence indicates that schizophrenia's heritability