For the July 2014 segment of Brain and Behavior Research Foundation’s Meet the Scientist Webinar Series by Dolores Malapsina, MD, of New York University School of Medicine made a fascinating presentation on: “Identifying Risk Factors and Protective Pathways for Schizophrenia.”
In her talk, Dr. Malaspina gave a simple explanation for the complex interplay of genetics with biology, environmental factors and human development in schizophrenia. She began with well-known family history data showing that the identical twin of a person with schizophrenia has a 48% of also having the disorder. If schizophrenia is genetically based, as is now thought, why do only 52% twins with the exact same genetic material never develop symptoms? Dr. Malaspina pointed to environmental and developmental risk factors which account for this difference, such as prenatal stress, traumatic brain injury, early cannabis use, and older fathering.
Here’s a slide from the webinar highlighting some of the most common risk factors:
The bad news is that some of these factors can double or triple the risk of schizophrenia, the good news is that scientists have found certain “protective pathways” that reduce risk. These protective pathways are especially important for family caregivers of adolescents and young adults at risk for schizophrenia to know about.
Some risk factors, such as a genetic predisposition, are inescapable while others others such as early cannabis use, can be avioded. Dr. Malaspina spoke on lifelong neurogenesis, also known as plasticity – the ability of the brain to form new connections and physically adapt or compensate in the face of injury and disease.
The webinar concluded with a question from a parent: “What words of encouragement can you offer a 27 year old son with schizophrenia?” Dr. Malaspina responded, “Be hopeful.” Scientists are actively searching for a cure to schizophrenia that may involve the turning on and off of certain genes. In the meantime, families can help a young person with schizophrenia by striving to provide a nurturing, supportive, socially-enriched environment where neurogenesis can occur.
Dr. Malaspina’s talk on “Identifying Risk Factors and Protective Pathways for Schizophrenia” was offered as a part of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation’s “Meet the Scientist” series. Every second Tuesday of each month this webinar series features a leading mental health researcher presenting the latest in new technologies, diagnostic tools, early intervention strategies and next-generation therapies for mental illness. You can view the schedule of upcoming webinars in the Meet the Scientist series here: Schedule – Meet the Scientist Series
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