A team of researchers led by faculty at the University of Georgia has identified a number of biological markers that make it possible to classify mental disorders with greater precision.
Their findings, published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry, may one day lead to improved diagnostics and treatments for those suffering from mental illness.
The advent of modern medical diagnostic tools has made it possible to identify the hallmarks of innumerable diseases with simple, reliable tests that portray the inner workings of the body in exquisite detail–allowing doctors to pinpoint the specific cause of a patient’s complaint and prescribe the proper course of treatment.
The same cannot be said, however, for the field of psychiatry. Despite advances in technology, there are no objective medical tests to diagnose mental disorders. Psychiatrists cannot find evidence of schizophrenia in a blood sample; they can’t see bipolar disorder in an X-ray.
“Psychiatry still relies on symptoms as the basis of a diagnosis,” said the study’s lead author Brett Clementz, a professor of psychology in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “It would be like using the presence of fever to diagnose a specific infection. We need some means to help us more accurately differentiate mental disorders.”
To that end, Clementz and his colleagues created an experimental program that uses neurobiological measures rather than symptoms to identify disease types. They focused exclusively on patients suffering from psychosis–a broad category of mental disorder that includes schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder with psychosis–to see if they could improve upon existing methods.