Researchers Identify Preliminary 'Biomarkers' of Psychosis

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Researchers at the University of Georgia have identified several biological markers enabling greater precision in classifying mental disorders, according to research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Unlike in other medical fields in which a blood test or X-ray might be able to definitively diagnose a patient, there are currently no objective medical tests to diagnose mental disorders.

"Psychiatry still relies on symptoms as the basis of a diagnosis," said Brett Clementz, PhD, professor of psychology in UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "It would be like using the presence of fever to diagnose a specific infection. We need some means to help us more accurately differentiate mental disorders."

Dr. Clementz and colleagues examined more than 700 patients with psychosis, some of their first-degree relatives, and a control group of healthy individuals to attempt to create neurobiological measures to diagnose disease types in place of symptoms.

Each participant went through tests to assess their cognitive abilities, MRI scans, and examinations revealing sensory or perceptual abnormalities. The researchers then used these measures to identify different “biotypes” of mental disorders, which were found to be superior to DSM standards.

The researchers note that there is still much work to be done before these measures could be used for new diagnostic procedures or to measure drug efficacy. However, they are hopeful that this work will eventually lead to improved diagnostics and that it will revitalize drug development research.

"You can't, for example, use an animal model for schizophrenia. How do you find a schizophrenic mouse? But if we can identify a biological mechanism that contributes to disease, then we may reinvigorate drug development, and that's what we're trying to provide,” said Dr. Clementz.

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The researchers identified different “biotypes” of mental disorders, which were found to be superior to DSM standards.

A team of researchers led by faculty at the University of Georgia has identified a number of biological markers that make it possible to classify mental disorders with greater precision. Their findings, published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry, may one day lead to improved diagnostics and treatments for those suffering from mental illness.

The advent of modern medical diagnostic tools has made it possible to identify the hallmarks of innumerable diseases with simple, reliable tests that portray the inner workings of the body in exquisite detail — allowing doctors to pinpoint the specific cause of a patient's complaint and prescribe the proper course of treatment.

The same cannot be said, however, for the field of psychiatry. Despite advances in technology, there are no objective medical tests to diagnose mental disorders. Psychiatrists cannot find evidence of schizophrenia in a blood sample; they can't see bipolar disorder in an X-ray.

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