Researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies began their experiment by taking skin cells from schizophrenic patients and reprogramming them into stem cells capable of giving rise to any type of tissue. They then coaxed those cells to differentiate into neurons. “Scientists found that the diseased neurons made fewer connections with one another than did healthy neurons—a problem that antischizophrenia medication could alleviate.” Previously, neurological studies done on schizophrenics came mainly from postmortem brain examinations.
What’s the Big Idea?
Altering the chemical makeup of normal cells can create a class of stem cells called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS. Experimenting with these stem cells has given researches insight into a host of diseases, though mainly ones in which genetic mutations occur during childhood. What makes recent stem cell research on schizophrenia especially impressive is the complexity of the disease—it is formed by genetic as well as environmental factors. Scientists hope that new light shed on the disease will also help in the development of treatments to combat it.