Blood TestIf it’s not used against you, a blood test for schizophrenia, which appears to be in the offing, may turn out to be the single most useful way to help stamp out the stigma.

It’s not for everyone. Blood tests for biomarkers raise the specter of mental illness scorecards for one in five Americans, generally, who have a clinical mental disorder. Whether to be tested for the markers will be a very personal choice.

Yet since there’s no lab test or brain scan to confirm schizophrenia, when someone’s sanity crumbles like a wall of dust, as happened, twice, in our house, families go on an endless search for answers.  A blood test that confirms one condition or another would seem to be a good place to start.

Still to me, at first blush, the idea of crunching an algorithm to identify dozens of molecular markers for schizophrenia (that’s essentially the blood test that’s on its way by 2016) sounded more like a Rorschach test than the rock-solid certainty needed for something as profound as schizophrenia.

But this Youtube video of a British woman ruminating on the benefits of knowing, one way or another, has me convinced. A blood test can only help in breaking the news to others, and to oneself, and can eliminate the need for self-identification when the patient has already lost insight into his or her own state of mind.

If it doesn’t make the disorder any less challenging to live with, a test may make it easier to accept for some 20 million families worldwide.

What do you think? It’s hard to quarrel with the argument that a biomarker test would promote more objective diagnosis. Or help guide psychiatrists in tailoring medications to underlying symptoms.

Could it also aid in erasing the stain of stigma?

Could it help normalize the illness?

Diabetes of the Brain?

After 15 years of research, Dr. Sabine Bahn, director of the Cambridge Center for Neuropsychiatric Research and of Psynova Neurotech Ltd, believes a test would help people accept the diagnosis and cope with the stigma surrounding it.

Bahn says it even has the potential to identify high-risk individuals for intervention trials and monitor their response to drug treatments.

Bahn, who also chairs the Translational Neuroscience at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, has said that her technique (using advanced profiling techniques to find abnormalities in postmortem human brain tissue, and in blood and other samples derived from patients and matched controls) is already guiding some novel therapeutic approaches.

For instance, when abnormal glucose levels were found in post-mortem brain tissues, leading some to wonder if schizophrenia isn’t “diabetes of the brain,” Bahn and her team went to work checking the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in living patients “to see if we could identify the same changes as seen in the postmortem brain,” she told a psychiatric conference.

They studied spinal fluid samples from these minimally treated patients with first-onset paranoid schizophrenia and demographically matched their samples to healthy controls.

Bahn said her “findings suggest alterations in glucoregulatory processes in CSF of drug-naive patients with first-onset schizophrenia.”

Eventually, her researchers were  able to develop blood serum based on its molecular profiles. “Short-term treatment with atypical antipsychotic medication resulted in a normalization of the CSF disease signature in half the patients well before a clinical improvement would be expected,” she said.