IMG 20191205 WA0019 300x226A groundbreaking research study in the Eastern Cape has found a strong link between Schizophrenia and rare genetic mutations which predispose to the disorder.

WSU researchers, Zukiswa Zingela and Mo Nagdee are two lecturers from the university who were part of a team of researchers in the Eastern Cape, investigating the differences in genes of people with  Schizophrenia among amaXhosa.

In the Eastern Cape, clinics were located in East London, Makhanda, Port Elizabeth and Komani with at least 909 Xhosa recruits with schizophrenia (cases) and 917 without it (controls) from psychiatric centres in the province and the Western Cape Province.

“In defining the cause of mental disorders, we take a biological, psychological, social and spiritual approach. This is because the development of mental illness is impacted by disturbances experienced along these factors that will usually interact with each other within the affected individual,” said Prof Zingela.

“An example is in a person who faces psychosocial stressors and spiritual challenges which then interact in that person, possibly in the background of some  genetic predisposition to develop Schizophrenia (e.g. the rare genetic differences identified in this study), leading to the development of symptoms,” she said.

The study does not mean that the Xhosa population is more susceptible to Schizophrenia compared to other populations.

The advantage of this study is that the findings were demonstrable in more moderate numbers of participants because of the greater genetic variation amongst the Xhosa people. This greater genetic variability is found in populations across Africa.

Most genetic research does not include people of Africa.  This disparity means that generations of human genetic history are missing from our current understanding of human genetics.  Human biology is universal. Genes that are important for an illness in one population are important for people all over the world. It is important that all persons from every part of the world are represented in genetic research, so that they can benefit from important findings that improve our understanding of the illness and the development of new treatments.

“What is new here is that in order to demonstrate significant findings, genetic studies conducted outside of Africa have had to recruit much higher numbers (in the thousands) due to less individual differences in the genes of humans who migrated from Africa to populate the rest of the world,” said Zingela.

Zingela said the findings support the postulated theories about the chemical pathways and disturbances in brain function that contribute to the development of Schizophrenia worldwide.

The international collaboration is comprised of top researchers from the University of Cape Town, Rhodes University and from the United States, including the Universities of Washington, Columbia University in New York, and the University of Pennsylvania.

By: Sinawo Hermans