Schizophrenia is a devastating and often destructive mental disorder, one that overtakes a young mind and sends it spinning out of touch with reality. About one in 100 Americans is estimated to have schizophrenia, and although the word itself has been around for just over 100 years, the illness has likely haunted humanity for thousands. The disorder tends to run in families, so scientists have long suspected a genetic component — and yet years of research since the first human genome was sequenced yielded no firm evidence of its root cause.
Until, that is, this week. In a landmark paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature, a team of the nation’s top scientists say they have pried open the “black box” of schizophrenia, pinpointing the genetic root of the disorder. “I’m a crusty, old, curmudgeonly skeptic,” Steven Hyman, the director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at MIT’s Broad Institute, told the Washington Post. “But I’m almost giddy about these findings.” It’s a crucial first step that, these scientists say, may one day lead to earlier detection of the disease and more sophisticated treatments.