Scientists in the US claim to have used a bone marrow transplant to cure mental illness in a study that could have profound implications for patients with psychiatric problems.
Bone marrow transplants are routinely used to treat leukaemia and other life-threatening diseases, but have never been used to treat mental health problems.
The team, led by a Nobel prizewinning geneticist, found that experimental transplants in mice cured them of a disorder in which they groom themselves so excessively they develop bare patches of skin. The condition is similar to a disorder in which people pull their hair out, called trichotillomania.
“A lot of people are going to find it amazing,” said Mario Capecchi at the University of Utah, who won the Nobel prize for medicine in 2007 for his work on mouse genetics. “That’s the surprise: bone marrow can correct a behavioural defect.”
The team said their work is the first to reveal a direct link between a psychiatric disorder and faulty immune cells, which grow in bone marrow before moving to the brain to protect nerve cells from damage.
Capecchi said the condition the animals develop is comparable to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and could shed fresh light on the roots of the disorder. Other illnesses including depression, schizophrenia and autism might also be linked to problems with the immune system, he added…
“This is immensely important and incredibly exciting. It’s definitely something people will want to follow up,” said Douglas Blackwood, professor of psychiatric genetics at Edinburgh University. “Current treatments for these kinds of conditions are not incredibly effective and there’s a massive need for alternatives.”
Other researchers were more cautious about the work. Paul Salkovskis, clinical director of the Maudsley Hospital Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma in London, said it was impossible to draw strong conclusions about the role of the immune system in human mental illnesses from the study. “Excessive grooming in mice is not a good model for obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans, a condition that can be treated effectively with cognitive behavioural therapy,” he said.
RTFA. The analyses parallel my first reactions – in that I wondered if the behavior related to allergies and immune systems?
Dogs can develop a behavioral reaction to allergies that looks like OCD, compulsively licking their forelegs and paws. While humans – well, humans make the definition.