Sunday, July 12, 2009

Childhood-onset schizophrenia remains a mystery

A study at the National Institute of Mental Health that has already spanned 18 years may yield crucial answers to the rare disorder.

So rare is the child form of schizophrenia, it has taken researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health 18 years to diagnosis and collect data on 110 children.

"We are trying to understand schizophrenia in a comprehensive way," says Dr. Nitin Gogtay, a researcher involved with the project in Bethesda, Md. "We see the illness in a very pure form. At that age, there are no confounding factors, like alcohol or drug abuse. We feel a lot of answers will come out of this study."

The study, the largest of its kind worldwide, has already yielded clues about the disease -- the most severe mental illness. Although schizophrenia afflicts about 1% of adults, it occurs in about one of every 30,000 to 50,000 children 13 and under. The causes of the disease are a mystery, although genes are known to play a role. In young children, a brain injury at or near the time of birth may contribute to its onset.


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