Markers of Schizophrenia Are Found in the Nose

May 10, 2013, 6:58 p.m. ET

Markers of Schizophrenia Are Found in the Nose

By DANIEL AKST

Mental illness isn’t like diabetes or cancer. It is usually diagnosed based on subjective evaluation rather than on definitive lab findings, which makes it hard to say for sure who has it. The result, in the eyes of critics, is a bogus epidemic and vast overmedication.

But more rigorous methods may be on the way. A recent study found telltale biological markers of schizophrenia in people’s noses. A reliable test for the disorder—which is believed to afflict 1 in 100 people—has long been a holy grail for psychiatrists, who lack a safe way to sample the living brain tissue.

As it turns out, the olfactory epithelium, which contains neurons and their stem cells, offers a window into the central nervous system—and thus access to physical indicators of the disease. Researchers who biopsied nasal tissue in 38 individuals found that, on average, the subset of 20 who met the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia had more of a key genetic regulator, miR-382, than did the 18 normal volunteers.

The genetic difference wasn’t present in all the schizophrenic participants, but because their diagnoses were based on standard clinical assessments, without biological confirmation, it’s conceivable that some of them suffer from a different disease altogether.A catalog of biological correlates could make the diagnosis of mental illness much more precise and may someday replace the bloated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The newest edition of this bible of psychic malady is nearly 1,000 pages. To its detractors, the biblical metaphor, with its overtones of theology and prophetic logorrhea, is all too apt.

Olfactory impairment is common not just in people with schizophrenia but in those at risk for it. So it makes sense that physicians may one day look into a patient’s nose—rather than into a book—to diagnose the disorder. It’s enough to make you wonder if the mostly forgotten Wilhelm Fliess was onto something.

Fliess, an otolaryngologist, shared his friend Sigmund Freud’s obsession with what they believed was the sexual basis of neuroses. But Fliess insisted that the key to the problem was not the mind but the nose.

In one of his ghastlier surgical interventions, he accidentally left almost 2 feet of gauze in the nasal cavity of one of Freud’s patients, causing a disfiguring infection. Fliess was a deplorable quack, but in looking for mental problems in the schnoz, perhaps he was poking around in the right place.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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