Brain scans may help doctors predict schizophrenia, a mental disorder that affects one percent of people across the world, says a new study.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh studied for 10 years 200 people who were at a high risk of developing schizophrenia because two or more family members had already been diagnosed with the illness, the online edition of BBC News said.
The researchers analysed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of 65 of the 200 people, taken on average 18 months apart. They looked specifically for changes in grey matter - brain tissue made principally of neurons that transmit messages and help to store memories.
Eight of the 65 went on to develop schizophrenia an average 2.3 years after the first scan. The scans of each of the eight revealed that they had changes in grey matter that happened before they became unwell.
There is no preventative treatment for schizophrenia because current methods are good only for predicting who won't develop schizophrenia but not who would. An accurate predictive test could help researchers to assess possibilities for prevention in the future, the scientists said.
Key changes take place in the grey matter and tracking these changes over time by scans combined with traditional assessments could help doctors to predict the illness, said the study published in the BioMed Central Medicine journal.
"It needs to be independently replicated before it would make a difference to the thousands of people living with severe mental illness in the UK," said Jo Loughran, a member of the schizophrenia charity Rethink.
Symptoms usually develop in men in their late teens or early 20s and in women in their 20s and 30s. In rare cases the symptoms, which include hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking, movement disorders, social withdrawal and cognitive deficits, could also appear in childhood.