Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects the way a person thinks, behaves, and / or acts. Diagnosing schizophrenia is now easier for doctors, thanks to new imaging technology developed by Japanese scientists.
Although it only affects less than one percent of the population, it is one of the most focused mental disorders in the scientific community. A person with schizophrenia can exhibit extremely strange behavior that can be difficult to ignore.
Right now, schizophrenia is incurable and scientists don’t even know what causes it. The disorder is a scientific mystery. Because of this, it is a big problem when there is any breakthrough in research on the condition. That is why this new technology that can help diagnose schizophrenia is exciting news in the scientific and medical communities.
Although the mental disorder affects only a small part of the population, it can be extremely disabling. Despite severe symptoms, about 40 percent of people diagnosed with the disorder receive no treatment each year.
Some of the common symptoms include:
- Inability to interpret and react adequately to sensations.
- An altered sense of self
- Strange behaviors and emotions
Most people with schizophrenia are not dangerous. However, if schizophrenia is severe enough, some people can become a danger to themselves and their people.
Behaviors to consider:
You may also have some additional strange behavioral symptoms. They may include:
- Ignoring personal care such as personal hygiene.
- Communication problems.
- Sudden decrease in performance at work or school.
- Concentration problems.
- Extreme suspicions of other people.
- Difficulty separating fantasy from reality.
- Sleeping problems
- A general lack of motivation.
All people who have psychosis do not necessarily have schizophrenia, but it is a great indicator that they might have it.
Current treatments for schizophrenia include medications and psychotherapy. Medications can be helpful, but they have a number of uncomfortable side effects like weight gain, drowsiness, and more. These side effects can become so severe that people stop taking the medication, making schizophrenia worse.
Psychotherapy can be helpful, although not necessarily as helpful as medication. These two treatments can help a person lead a relatively normal life, but are unstable treatments at best and depend on the person cooperating with long-term treatments (the mental disorder may somehow convince them to suspend treatments). There really are no great treatments for schizophrenia. This groundbreaking research is a much-needed discovery in diagnosing and treating schizophrenia.
There may not be a cure for this mental disorder, but there are some treatments available to help people cope with the symptoms. However, current treatments could use significant improvements, and Ryuta Mizutani, professor of applied biochemistry at Tokai University in Japan, and his team set out to explore this in your investigation.
According to Professor Mizutani, current treatments are based on many theories but not necessarily on proven facts. This is partly because science did not have the technology to study the disorder. Up to now.
In partnership with the Argonne National Laboratory and the US Department of Energy (DOE), Professor Mizutani and his team used the world’s latest and most innovative technology to, as Mizutani said,
“… analyze the brain and see how it is made up differently.”
Analyzing the brain through X-ray technology is not new, that is precisely what computed tomography (CT) scans do. However, these incredible machines are not powerful or advanced enough to bring brain cells as closely together as necessary to provide definitive answers on schizophrenia.
Brain cells are made up of around 100 billion neurons and glial cells. Neurons are the main focus of research and their size ranges from 4 microns (.004 mm) to 100 microns (.1 mm) in diameter.
Although CT technology has now evolved into micro-CT technology, these machines are still unable to obtain images smaller than 100 microns. Now you can see why studying schizophrenia in depth has been a problem: Even the most advanced imaging devices can only see the largest neurons.
The latest imaging technology comes to the rescue
Argonne National Laboratory has a special team they call Advanced Photon Source (APS). They have machines known as light lines They provide high-power imaging capabilities far beyond those of micro-CT devices. Currently, the group operates four beamlines: the high-energy tomography beamline, the multiscale full-field imaging beamline, 2-BM, and 32-ID. Professor Mizutani used the 32-ID beamline for his research.
Beamline 32-ID is currently capable of providing complete images of particles as small as .025 microns. There are only a few places in the world that offer image resolution of this caliber. Still, APS is working to make it even more efficient. Research and development is currently underway to increase this image to .015 microns.
While the 32-ID beamline provides a closer look at neurons than ever before, it was still a challenge to look at neurons the way Professor Mizutani needed. The neurons had to be tracked for several millimeters, but the 32-ID beamline’s field of view is only 50 microns wide, about the width of a human hair. While they were able to see the neurons relatively clearly, they had to come up with a way to essentially create a moving X-ray.
The study and what the team discovered
Despite the difficulties and, curiously, the limits of the world’s most advanced imaging machine, Professor Mizutaki’s team was able to complete their research and found fascinating results. To understand the significance of the results, let’s look at an overview of the findings together.
To start, they used postmortem brain samples collected from four healthy patients and four schizophrenic patients. These samples turn out to be the same samples used in a previous study in the Brodmann area (BA) 24.
Brodmann’s areas are named after the German neurologist Korbinian Brodmann. He drew a map 52 different brain regions according to their cytoarchitectural characteristics. Although he did his work in the late 1800s, this brain map is still relevant and useful today.
In the previous study, they analyzed the structure of neurons. They found that the curvature of neurons was uniquely individual among all subjects. However, they found an extraordinary difference in the schizophrenic samples.
In this study, they focused on BA-22, once again comparing the structures of healthy brain samples with those of schizophrenics. Although the structures of the neurons were unique in each individual, the researchers also found consistent differences between the healthy and schizophrenic samples. They were able to see the differences more clearly in this study. These differences were:
- Thicker tails in schizophrenic specimens (all neurons have tails on one side).
- Rough and tortuous surfaces in schizophrenic neurons versus smooth surfaces in healthy ones.
- Schizophrenic neurons were significantly more curved than healthy ones.
- Healthy neurons were thicker than schizophrenic neurons.
According to Mizutani, this is evidence that there is some association between these neural structures and schizophrenia. He states that they need more studies and more advanced technology (discussed below) to discover the precise association.
How this information can help diagnose schizophrenia
The research done by Professor Mizutani and his team is far from usable in any practical way. Still, it is a significant advance in understanding the mess and how it works. The hope is that after more research of this nature, scientists will be able to use images to diagnose schizophrenia rather than behavioral guesswork.
The team plans to expand on this research after APS updates the 32-ID beamline. The update will make the beamline 500 times brighter so researchers can capture synaptic connections. According to Vincent De Andrade, a physicist in Argonne’s Division of X-ray Sciences, this will be the “holy grail for a complete mapping of neurons.” If they can pull off this feat, the possibilities would be endless. Some even speculate that they might one day prevent or cure mental disorder.
The research was initially published in the Translational psychiatry Journal on January 14, 2021.
Current methods of diagnose schizophrenia It can only occur after the person has the mental disorder. Since the illness appears to occur in people from the late teens to early twenties, it would be great if scientists found a way to diagnose schizophrenia before then. This could lead to the possibility of stopping the disorder in its tracks before it worsens.
It may be a stretch to expect a cure (technology is probably light years away from helping with this), but it is reasonable to expect better treatments. All you can do now is take Professor Mizutani’s study as a victory and keep hoping for the best.