(File pix) An Australian scientist has made a major breakthrough in her field by identifying increased amounts of immune cells in the brain of people suffering from the disease. Archive image for illustration purposes only. AFP Photo

SYDNEY: Australian scientist, Professor Cynthia Shannon Weickert, a 30-year schizophrenia research veteran, has made a major breakthrough in her field by identifying increased amounts of immune cells in the brain of people suffering from the disease.

According to Xinhua news agency, her research, which was released on Friday, could lead to better diagnosis and treatment which are currently only partially able to relieve symptoms and often include unwanted side effects.

“This opens whole new avenues for therapy, because it suggests that the pathology of schizophrenia could be within the immune cells and the immune cells could be contributing to the symptoms of schizophrenia.

“In our study, we challenged this assumption that immune cells are independent of the brain in psychiatric illness and made an exciting discovery,” she said.

Weickert noted that in the past, these new suspects had been thought of as benign travellers and mostly ignored; however, their discovery in large numbers in the brain of schizophrenics suggest they are more active than they once seemed.

On a personal basis, she has a connection to the disease, witnessing her twin brother suffering multiple attempts to treat his schizophrenia which often did more harm than good.

That experience is what prompted Weickert to become a molecular biologist in the first place, believing that with finely-tuned research she could stem the devastating effect that schizophrenia has on people who would otherwise, lead normal and happy lives.

“I just thought, my God, we have to get to the bottom of this horrible thing happening to a normal kid,” she recalled.

She believes that the way forward in psychiatry is to study the brain tissue to discover the underlying causes of pathologies, similar to the way breast cancers have been studied on a molecular level.

“This is the biggest breakthrough and the most exciting thing I’ve dug up about the brain in all this time. I can see the path forward now and that’s really exciting.” -- Bernama

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