Blood test that can detect psychotic disorders years before they occur

A simple blood test can predict who will suffer from psychotic disorders later in life, according to scientists.

Researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons University in Dublin have taken samples from more than a hundred people considered at high risk of developing these symptoms. Using computerized imaging and machine learning to observe hundreds of proteins in the blood, they were able to correctly say who will suffer from this 93% of the time.

Experts have also been able to identify who would certainly not develop psychosis in 80% of cases.

Many of the disease-related proteins are also involved in inflammation, suggesting that early changes in the immune system cause brain damage over time. The scientists behind the study said the findings were a huge leap in trying to prevent psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. The researchers looked at 133 people in their teens who were at risk of developing the condition.

People are more likely to develop a psychotic disorder if they have a close family member who suffers from such hereditary diseases. Children born with certain genetic mutations are also at risk.

However, only 20% to 30% of these people will continue to develop a psychotic disorder. Participants provided a blood sample and were followed up several times over five years. A total of 49 participants (37%) continued to develop one of the conditions during the study period.

Scientists have identified ten key proteins – all related to inflammation – that could predict who develops them and who doesn't. This suggests that people who eventually suffer from psychosis experience changes in their immune system fairly early in life.

Professor David Cotter, lead author and professor of molecular psychiatry at RCSI, said: “Ideally, we would like to prevent psychotic disorders, but this requires us to be able to accurately identify who is most at risk. Our research has shown that, with the help of machine learning, the analysis of protein levels in blood samples can predict who is really at risk and could benefit from preventive treatments.

Now they need to study these markers in other people at high risk for psychosis to confirm these findings, according to the teacher. A patent application for the test has been filed, and the research team is working to commercialize this research through licensing and partnership with industry.

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