Edinburgh scientists grow human brain cells to study mental illness

  • 29 February 2012
  • From the section Scotland

Scientists are growing brain cells from people in families with a history of mental illness to test new treatments.

In the past, researchers have had to rely on brain tissue from deceased donors to study conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Using living cells from the skin or hair of people who have faulty genes will allow researchers to create more accurate tests.

It also means they can reduce the reliance on animal testing.

The Edinburgh University project has received a £1m funding boost from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research.

It aims to develop cell-based systems derived from the skin or hair of affected patients.

Effective treatments

These will allow researchers to create tests which are more relevant to understanding the disease, and whether treatments will work, than using animal models.

Andrew McIntosh, a professor of biological psychiatry at the university, said: "We are making different types of brain cells out of skin samples from people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

"Once we have grown these in the laboratory we can then study the cells' neurological function and see how they respond to standard psychiatric treatments. Following this we hope to be able to screen new medicines."

Between 1% and 4% of the world's population is diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia for which there are few highly effective treatments.

Little is known about the causes of these conditions, but a genetic component is involved as it can run in families.

Well over a million people in the UK are affected by these conditions.

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