An easy way to identify Schizophrenia? A research collaboration between Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem and Hebrew University of Jerusalem has discovered the ability to detect a Psychotic attack through a blood test.
This is the first brain research of its kind—led by Dr. Asael Lubotzky, a Senior Pediatrician in Shaare Zedek’s Neuropediatric Unit, as part of a doctoral dissertation supervised by two researchers from Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine. The researchers examined dozens of Psychiatric patients, 29 of them with a first Psychotic attack. Shortly after the attack began, blood samples were taken, and compared to 31 samples from healthy subjects without Psychiatric illness.
“In our bodies, there are over 200 different types of cells, and when they die, they release free-flowing DNA segments into the bloodstream. A liquid biopsy is a unique blood test that when analyzed can reveal a lot of information about the origin of the dead cells,” explained Dr. Asael Lubotzky.
Schizophrenia is a common, severe, and debilitating Psychiatric Disorder. Despite extensive research, no biological markers have ever been discovered that can aid in its diagnosis and prediction of its course. This makes early detection and intervention nearly impossible.
Psychosis is the first presentation of Schizophrenia. Although Psychosis typically begins during adolescence and young adulthood, there is a growing amount of data that shows underlying biological changes presenting years before any symptoms of Psychosis are exhibited. This means that identifying biomarkers that will allow early diagnosis and therapeutic interventions is of the highest importance.
“In this study, we were able to trace brain cell damage that occurs at the beginning of the psychotic attack. This discovery has tremendous potential for detecting and monitoring other brain diseases,” the researchers wrote. Until now, there have been no biomarkers for brain damage. Previous studies have shown that Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans can show a change in brain volume in patients with Schizophrenia, a finding that indicates a loss of brain tissue. But until now, it has never been known whether brain damage occurs during a psychotic attack and brain cells die.
Before becoming a physician at Shaare Zedek, Dr. Lubotzky was a Platoon Commander in the Israel Defense Forces’ Golani Brigade. He is the author of the Israeli bestseller From the Wilderness and Lebanon that describes his experiences during the Second Lebanon War. He was severely wounded in the infamous Battle of Bint Jbeil, when an anti-tank missile hit his vehicle. The book also documents his struggle through numerous operations and a protracted period of rehabilitation, during which he learned to walk again. As a result of his experiences during his hospitalization, he decided to study medicine, and despite a permanent disability that requires him to walk with crutches, he is an excellent doctor and Shaare Zedek is proud to have him as part of our family of medical staff.