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Cells from patients diagnosed with schizophrenia may provide clues about the disease

neural-pathways-221718_1280As a medical student, Sergiu Pasca was frustrated when he learned about the treatments available for mental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

"We can cover up the symptoms, but these are lifelong, chronic disorders," Pasca, MD, said. "That was incredibly disappointing to me."

Now, as a neuroscientist, Pasca is planning to do something about that. To understand more about the mechanisms driving these disorders, his team has developed a technique to take cells from patients with schizophrenia and culture them in a dish to make functional 3-D neural models. Using this approach, his team is trying to uncover the roots of schizophrenia.

What is going wrong during neural development that leads to these disorders? Are the neurons themselves misformed? What is the role of glial cells, the under-appreciated support cells in the brain?

The technique offers opportunities not available by examining post-mortem human brains or living mice, whose neurons are quite different than humans', Pasca said.

The mental-health community is excited about this new technique too; Pasca was recently named one of four MQ Fellows, an honor bestowed by a London-based NGO that works to improve the quality of life for people with mental-health disorders. The fellowship provides more than $350,000 over three years as well, enough to support Pasca's relatively new Stanford lab.

Previously: New thinking on schizophrenia, it's the mind, body and social experience, Researchers induce social deficits associated with autism, schizophrenia in mice and Imagining voices: A look at an alternative approach to treating auditory hallucinations
Photo by geralt

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