From stem cells to schizophrenia in a dish

Kristen Brennand

CIRM grantee Fred Gage at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies and his lab are creating a veritable cellular hospital of disease conditions playing out in laboratory dishes. What they learn from these diseases-in-miniature could lead to new ways of creating and screening drugs to treat the disorder.

In 2008, he matured embryonic stem cells into the type of nerve cells damaged in ALS. This study led to insights in how the damage occurs and could provide a way of screening new drugs. Then in November of 2010, Gage and his colleagues published a paper in which they reprogrammed skin cells from people with a genetic form of autism spectrum disorders. They then matured those iPS cells into neurons that they could study in the lab.

Now, Gage and his team have published a paper in Nature in which they pulled off a similar feat, this time with schizophrenia. They took skin cells from people with a genetic form of the disease and reprogrammed those cells back to an embryonic-like state. They then matured those cells into neurons — neurons that produced significantly fewer connections than is normally seen. What’s more, the drug Loxapine, used to treat schizophrenia, helped restore those connections. No other frequently prescribed antipsychotic medication was able to restore those connections.

A Salk press release quotes Fred Gage, who is professor in the Salk’s Laboratory of Genetics and holder of the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Diseases:

“Schizophrenia exemplifies many of the research challenges posed by complex psychiatric disorders,” says Gage. “Without a basic understanding of the causes and the pathophysiology of the disorder, we lack the tools to develop effective treatments or take preventive measures.”

The group also found almost 600 genes whose activity was different between normal neurons and those from the schizophrenia cell. Roughly a quarter of those had been implicated in schizophrenia in the past.

The press release quoted Gage again:

“For many years, mental illness has been thought of as a social or environmental disease, and many thought that if affected people just worked through their problems, they could overcome them,” says Gage. “What we are showing are real biological dysfunctions in neurons that are independent of the environment.”

We produced a video of Gage discussing the role of stem cells in understanding diseases:

CIRM Funding: Kristen Brennand (T3-00007); Fred Gage (RL1-00649-1)
Nature, April 13, 2011

 – A.A.

8 thoughts on “From stem cells to schizophrenia in a dish

  1. hello
    i havent found a way to contact cirm on this website but i want somone from this orginization to contact me, i have skitzofrenia and want to be treated for it with stem cells, i would travel to the ends of the earth to find a way to get even a little better, anyone serious about helping me please contact me at or add me as a friend on facebook my facebook name is david daryl eugene zimmerman

  2. My son of 17 years old, who had always such a beautiful mind, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He finds the disease to be devistating. The possitive symptoms he doesn't mind that much, it's the negative symptoms that worry him the most. As I see it treatment has always been focussed more on society (indeed, possitive symptoms can cause a lot of trouble for society), than on the benefits of the patients. The emotional flatness witch makes it difficult for them to have a fulfilling social life, and the cognital disfunctions, which stops their cariere before it has begun. This leaves the people with no hope and a depressed state of mind. Just as the other people have written on the forum, I think that every new insight in the disease should be trialled. My son would be very pleased to take care in such a study.
    you can contact us

  3. I read last year on an article that doctors in Israel are working to find an issue. But because it is a chemical imballance they are having some difficulty. It is not a cell problem looks like. However I have found comfort in Christianity, there is one way to be free and that is thrugh freedom. You would need one theologian to pray daily for you, some do and they get paid from the church to do this job. For more info write at

  4. My girl been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Please is there any one help .Can any one help with stem cells
    can stem cells help with Psoriasis?

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