A Cure For Schizophrenia?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An essay about finding a cure for schizophrenia. This paper talks about what some of the theories are on what causes schizophrenia. It also talks about the symptoms and the medications used to treat the disease.

Submitted: December 01, 2010

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Submitted: December 01, 2010

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A Cure For Schizophrenia?
 
Schizophrenia is a common mental illness that effects millions of people. In the past, schizophrenia has been blamed on outside factors such as bad parents and drug use. However as we learn more about this illness, it is becoming clear that schizophrenia is caused by our own bodies. One of the theories that is gaining more recognition is that schizophrenia may be linked to a retrovirus that hides in our own DNA. Researchers’ believe that schizophrenia could possibly be cured if treated at the onset of symptoms, however there is still much debate on whether or not this disease is curable and which virus causes it . Searching for a cure has been an ongoing process that dates back as far as the 1950s, resulting in many studies being performed on schizophrenic patients .
Robert Fox wrote an article called “The Insanity Virus” in Discovery Magazine about two identical twins named Steven and David Elmore. In this story Fox illustrates an brief history of the two twins. Within the first few weeks of their birth David came home from the hospital a healthy baby, while Steven stayed behind in the ICU due to severe complications from a dangerous viral infection. For one month Steven was close to death with an unbearable fever  as the infection attacked his infant immune system. Months later, Steven eventually made a full recovery however, his motor skills never seemed to be as sharp as his twin brother’s and he lagged behind in almost all of the typical childhood milestones. Around the age of eight Steven finally caught up with his brother and the twins seemed to be nearly identical to each other from that point on. However this did not last, as trouble struck again when the twins reached high school.  Steven began hearing voices and became easily agitated, he also found it difficult to stay focused and concentrate with even the simplest of tasks. As these problems compounded, Steven eventually succumbed to a mental break down and was hospitalized.  The result of the doctor’s exam with Steven led to him being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Stevens onset of Schizophrenia is not unusual at this age, because it is a common mental illness that is usually diagnosed between the ages of fifteen and twenty five.  Could preventing Steven’s illness when he was an infant have stopped his deteriorating mental condition which will affect him the rest of his life?  Fox certainly implies this in his article, as he writes that not only is the virus that Steven was infected with at such a young age the human endogenous retrovirus W or HERV-W, but that it is likely the direct cause of schizophrenia.
HERV-W is a retrovirus which was identified by a scientific researcher named Herve Perron. His research into the retroviruses was not based around schizophrenia, but his research is crucial in finding the link between retroviruses and schizophrenia. Retroviruses often live in cells and splice their genes into the hosts cell’s DNA. Perron was studying retroviruses in multiple sclerosis patients to determine if they were the cause of MS. At the conclusion of Perron’s studies, he discovered that not only are retroviruses the cause of multiple sclerosis, but it is a virus that everyone already carries in their own genetic structure. It turned out that every human being’s DNA carries dozens of copies of Perron’s virus, which is now called HERV-W.
Fox writes about the history of how the theory that HERV-W and schizophrenia are linked was developed. It started with a man by the name of Fuller Torrey. Torrey was the director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where he started studying this disease in the 1950’s. Torreys original hypothesis began with his realization that “people born in winter or early spring are more likely to [become infected] than others [who] become schizophrenic later in life. It is a small increase, just 5 to 8 percent, but its remarkably consistent.” This early theory is known as the birth-month effect. Torrey stated that “The birth effect is one of the most clearly established facts about schizophrenia.”  Using the birth-month effect as his basis, Torrey began to also wonder if the moment of infection might occur during early childhood. His reasoning for this was that babies born in winter months were statistically more prone to infections in the first few months of their lives. This link that Torrey noticed lead him to suggest that schizophrenia may be caused by a virus that is more common during winter and early spring, when newborns are more likely to become infected.
Using Perron’s discoveries about retrovirsuses as a basis, Torrey was finally able to find a link between schizophrenia and the HERV-W virus.  Several other studies since then have further backed Torrey’s conclusions by showing that HERV-W is active in a statistically significant number of patients with schizophrenia. One study by Perron found that 49 percent of people with schizophrenia have the HERV-W virus, compared to just 4 percent of healthy people. However, not all patients with schizophrenia have the HERV-W virus, so there are other studies that suggest a different virus may also be to blame for schizophrenia.
These other viruses have been documented in another article written by Michael Krebs in Digital Journal. In this article Krebs writes about Dr. Hossein Fatemi, a Professor of Psychiatry, Pharmacology and Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Dr. Fatemi has been studying the link between the H1N1 virus and schizophrenia for over 10 years. In the 1990s evidence emerged that pregnant mothers who had been infected by the flu had given birth to children where were later diagnosed with schizophrenia. The H1N1 virus is one branch of numerous flu virus species. Dr. Fatemi found that a direct connection between flu infection and the onset of autism, schizophrenia and other gray and white matter afflictions. Could a common flu virus be responsible for schizophrenia? Krebs states that “Experts now agree that schizophrenia develops as a result of interplay between biological predisposition (inheriting certain genes) and the kind of environment a person is exposed to.” Basically it appears that schizophrenia is passed through genetics and other outside factors. Again, this research into yet another cause of schizophrenia is not conclusive for all cases.  
While there are many theories about what causes schizophrenia and how to prevent it, none of them focus on what treatment options and cures are available for someone who already has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.First one needs to recognize the symptoms that schizophrenics have. Dr. Nick Vogel, who has obtained a Doctorate degree of pharmacy from the University of Colorado, discussed these symptoms with me in an interview that I conducted. Dr. Vogel states that the typical symptoms of schizophrenics are: psychomotor agitations like uncontrolled movement, hallucinations such as visual, auditory or other sensory stimuli that are not real, delusions such as extreme paranoia or personalization of your environment in an irrational manner, thought disorders such as disorganized speech or catatonic behavior, and trouble focusing on even the simplest of tasks. These symptoms are divided into positive and negative symptoms because of their impact on diagnosis and treatment.
According to Schizophrenia.com, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping both patients of schizophrenia and their families, usually schizophrenia patients suffer from a combination of positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms. Positive symptoms of schizophrenia are symptoms which manifest in an active or aggressive manner such as hallucinations, delusions, and racing thoughts. Negative symptoms of schizophrenia are symptoms which manifest in a passive manner such as apathy, lack of emotion, and poor or nonexistent social functioning. Cognitive symptoms are symptoms which manifest similar to a learning disorder such as disorganized thoughts, difficulty concentrating and/or following instructions, difficulty completing tasks and memory problems. Disappointingly  getting a proper diagnosis of schizophrenia is sometimes a very difficult task for both the patients and their doctors. Schizophrenics display a lot of the same symptoms as many other major brain disorders such as bipolar disorder and major depression. Another issue with diagnosis is that some schizophrenics are so paranoid that they believe that nothing is wrong with them that they have no reason to go see a doctor to begin with.
Those people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia have only a few options available to them. Many are simply treated with antipsychotic medications. There are many different antipsychotic medications that exist today to treat schizophrenia. There are atypical antipsychotic medications and there is also typical medications antipsychotic medications. Atypical medications are newer and include, Abilify, Geodon, Invega, Rispersal, Seroquel and Zyprexa. Since atypical medications are newer they are mostly brand names, which means that they are quite expensive when compared to typical antipsychotic medications. Some typical antipsychotic medications are Haldol, Trilafon, Thorazine and Prolixin. The methods in which typical medications work in the brain vary significantly, however the mechanism of action or (MOA) is unknown in atypical medications.  According to an article “A Method to Estimate In Vivo D2 Receptor Occupancy by Antipsychotic Drugs,” written by Richard Roemer, Elliott Richelson and Charles Shagass, “Typical antipsychotic medications have been shown to reduce neurotransmission in the central nervous system (CNS) by blocking neurotransmitter activity at receptors.” In other words the medication binds to receptors in the human brain and block the messages the that the CNS is sending to those receptors. While these medications may be helpful in treating patients with schizophrenia, they do not come without their drawbacks.
 Antipsychotic medications help patients with schizophrenia but there are some negative side effects that may occur while taking these medications. Dr. Vogel stated that the side effects of taking antipsychotic medications include drowsiness, dizziness when changing positions, blurred vision, rapid heartbeat, sensitivity to the sun, skin rashes, sexual side effects, menstrual side effects, rigidity, muscle spasms, tremors and restlessness. In his experience, typical medications are more likely to produce these negative side effects and the side effects can be mitigated by lowering the dosage of the medication. While lowering the dosage may help with the side effects it may also reduce the effectiveness of the medication. Switching to an atypical antipsychotic may be another solution to reducing the known side effects, however because the atypical medications are newer, their mechanisms of action are not known, and their long term side effects have not been as thoroughly studied.
Another important step in therapy for the treatment of schizophrenia is in creating a positive support system. There are many support groups that schizophrenics and their families can go to for support and more information. Going on-line and searching for local support groups in your area is a good way to learn from others experiencing similar problems to yourself. Schizophenica.com has links that can provide you with this information and other methods of creating a positive support system.
There seem to be many theories about what causes schizophrenia, yet unfortunately there does not seem to be any conclusive answers what the definitive cause of schizophrenia is. Beyond this, once someone is diagnosed with schizophrenia there are no known cures. My own research into schizophrenia has lead me to believe that schizophrenia is caused by a virus that is either carrier at birth or triggered by an outside infection shortly after birth. However, how the virus manifests into schizophrenia from these viruses is still a mystery. Scientist are now finding that preventing schizophrenia involves tapering down the infections that trigger the virus. I believe we are on the right track to finding a preventative cure for schizophrenia as medical advances are made, and eventually someday this disease will no longer be a problem for millions of people around the world.
 
 
Works Cited
1. Fox, Douglas. “The Insanity Virus.” Discovery Magazine. June, 2010.
2. Krebs, Michael. “H1N1 And Other Flu Viruses Linked to Autism and Schizophrenia.” Digital Journal Reports. July 29, 2009.
3. Richelson, Richard Roemer, Charles Shagass, and Lyn Leventhal. “A Method to Estimate In Vivo D2 Receptor Occupancy by Antipsychotic Drugs” Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. Vol. 21, No. 5, 1996.
4. Shizopphrenia.com. “Symptoms and Diagnosis” Schizophrenia News Letter. Web 1 Nov. 2010
5. Vogel, Nick. Interview, Questions about schizophrenia. 20 Oct. 2010.
 


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