April 9, 2014. On April 3, 2014, the journal Nature published a supplement surveying some of the hot topics in schizophrenia research. The open-access feature, funded by the pharmaceutical company Otsuka, includes a series of articles by science writers, including SRF reporter Michele Solis, as well as two Perspective opinion pieces.
Solis writes on the prodrome and efforts to prevent the first psychotic break, while the other writers take on subjects ranging from the results of genetics studies and the value of animal models or studying language deficits, to the struggle to treat negative symptoms and the question of whether people with schizophrenia in developing countries have better outcomes.
In one Perspective article, former NIMH director Steven Hyman, currently director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, outlines the challenges facing those who are watching the data pour in from genetic studies of schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders—from the sheer number of genes of very small individual effect at the population level to the open question of how to best analyze these data and study them in biological systems.
Hyman, whose center is generating the lion's share of those data, puts his money on analyzing the data from many genes in order to find common molecular pathways. "The ability to study these networks is more likely than studying individual genes to yield insight into schizophrenia mechanisms and to suggest drug targets," he writes. He is clear that he thinks more money should be invested in this effort.
In his article, "Retreat from the radical," Stephen Marder of the University of California, Los Angeles, takes a somewhat opposing view. He argues that NIMH has embarked on too radical a plan—dropping research that might make incremental improvements for patients in favor of basic research on the genetics and biology of the disorder and moving quickly toward research that falls into the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC), rather than DSM diagnoses. His position is that genetics will likely only produce benefits decades from now, if ever, and RDoC's categories have no proven relationship to the symptoms of schizophrenia.
He counters that there are research areas such as cognitive or neuroprotective therapies that show promise, especially if administered very early. "[W]e are on the verge of less dramatic but nonetheless important improvements in the treatment of a devastating illness. Premature and radical changes in research methods may imperil these advances," Marder concludes.—Hakon Heimer.
Nature Outlook Supplement. Vol. 508 No. 7494_supp ppS1-S48