The development of an early-warning test could drastically help those young people most at risk of developing severe mental illness, researchers claim.
A team of psychologists and psychiatrists at the University of Glasgow, Scotland has received £1 million of funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) to begin research on a brainwave ’fingerprint’ which could be used to help identify young people at risk of developing serious mental illness.
Researchers are currently looking to recruit 100 volunteers aged between 16 and 35 for the project which will measure their brain activity and examine changes in their mental state for a period of up to two years.
According to the researchers, the Youth Mental Health Risk and Resilience Study (YouR-Study) will use magnetoencephalography (MEG), a brain imaging technique unique to the university in Scotland, to examine a specific set of brainwaves known to be involved in cognitive functions.
“We’re hoping that closer examination of these brainwaves will help lead to a better outcome for patients
Lead researcher Peter Uhlhaas
The researchers said that one of the main aims of the project is to develop an early-warning system capable of identifying people at high risk of developing psychosis before they fully manifest the symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions.
YouR-Study will be led by Peter Uhlhaas of the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology.
“The study will be the first of its kind to use MEG to investigate links between neural oscillations and their synchronisation, which recent research has shown may well play a role in the development of psychosis,” Uhlhass said.
“MEG, which is similar to electroencephalography (EEG)uses very sensitive magnetometers to record magnetic fields produced by electrical currents occurring naturally in the brain, creating a sophisticated map of brain activity,” he added.
Uhlhass claims that the particular frequencies his research team is looking at play a key role in controlling cognitive and perceptual processes, which are seriously affected in those suffering from psychosis.
“By identifying shared characteristics in the brainwaves of those in the early stages of risk, we’re hoping to find a specific ’fingerprint’ which we can use to more easily identify people before they become seriously ill,” he said.
Uhlhass also identified treatment costs as a considerable barrier to those who suffer from the effects of psychosis and mental illness.
“We’re hoping that closer examination of these brainwaves will help lead to a better outcome for patients and also a reduction in the cost impact that serious mental illness can have on healthcare services,” Uhlhass said.
Uhlhass said that the ’holy grail’ of this research would be the reliable and accurate diagnosis of a patient making the early-stage transition into psychosis over a period of time.
“On the basis of the measurement at the baseline, we could [hopefully] then say clearly whether or not someone is going to develop psychosis,” he said.
In similar news, researchers in Sweden last week made ground on identifying why physical exercise helps protect the brain from stress-induced depression.
In that instance researchers revealed that exercise training induces changes in skeletal muscle that can purge the blood of a substance that accumulates during stress, and is harmful to the brain.