Schizophrenia is a debilitating mental illness with a worldwide lifetime risk of about 1% characterized by positive symptoms (e.g., delusions and hallucinations), negative symptoms (e.g., affective flattening, apathy, and social withdrawal), and cognitive dysfunction. Schizophrenia is caused by a combination of genetic factors together with environmental insults and its onset occurs in young adulthood.
Current therapies for schizophrenia have limited efficacy and severe side effects, such as weight gain and diabetes. The origins of the majority of these compounds were from serendipitous observations in patients over 50 years ago. Many efforts across both academia and industry are being started to hopefully fill the medicine cabinet of the future with new approaches that should attack schizophrenia with a better appreciation of the disease and its underlying biology.
In the Conte Center for Schizophrenia Research at Johns Hopkins, we aim to elucidate the etiology-based molecular pathways and mechanisms of schizophrenia, especially focusing on those in the postnatal maturation of the cerebral cortex. To achieve the goal, we integrate neurobiologists and psychiatrists with groups with established resources essential to develop high levels of schizophrenia research in a systematic manner.
Recent clinical studies have clarified the importance of early intervention with schizophrenia, including the possibility of preventive medications that can block the progression to full-blown clinical manifestations. Preventing disease onset in ‘at-risk’ patients would revolutionize treatment for psychiatric illnesses. We hope that our center will directly contribute to develop the ways for early intervention and diagnosis of this disorder, which are clinically awaited.