NUI Galway Researchers Makes Schizophrenia Discovery Using Genetics and Genomics

Jan 30 2020 Posted: 10:48 GMT

Science breakthroughs such as this in schizophrenia at NUI Galway will be further enhanced when the University enroll its first class of students in a new undergraduate BSc degree in Genetics and Genomics in September 2020

Scientists at NUI Galway have identified how some genes may increase the risk of schizophrenia.  In a study led by Dr Derek Morris and Professor Ciaran Morrison, recently published in the leading international journal Human Molecular Genetics, reducing the function of a known schizophrenia risk gene called SDCCAG8 was found to cause changes in brain cell behaviour. This may indicate biologically how changes in our DNA increase risk of schizophrenia, thereby providing opportunities for new therapy development. 

Schizophrenia affects on average one in one hundred people but its biology is poorly understood. Schizophrenia is highly genetic, meaning that many of the risk factors for developing the illness lie in the ~20,000 genes in the human genome. Large-scale genomics studies identified SDCCAG8 as a gene involved in schizophrenia. To explore how SDCCAG8 may be involved in illness, Irish Research Council-funded PhD student Mairéad Flynn used CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing to remove SDCCAG8 from cultured brain cells.  This resulted in the cells struggling to migrate and to change into more specialized brain cells. The team also found that the functions of hundreds of other genes were also affected in these cells, which potentially disrupts normal brain development and function and puts individuals at risk of developing mental illness.  

Professor Ciaran Morrison, Head of NUI Galway’s School of Natural Sciences, explains: “Our analyses indicate that genes influenced by SDCCAG8 are important for different brain functions and this presents us with a model for how other genes may contribute to the biology of schizophrenia. This can be exploited to help understand the biology of schizophrenia in greater detail and open up opportunities for new drug development, which is badly needed for this mental illness.”

In parallel with this research NUI Galway will enrol its first class of students in a new undergraduate BSc degree in Genetics and Genomics in September 2020. The new course offers students the opportunity to learn about the scientific advances that allow the identification and analysis of such disease genes. For more information on the BSc in Genetics and Genomics visit

According to Programme Director of the new BSc in Genetics and Genomics, Dr Derek Morris: “Advances in genome editing and sequencing over the last 15 years have revolutionised many areas of biology and biomedical science such as the study of common illnesses, as exemplified in our schizophrenia research. We want to teach students who are interested in biology and mathematics about the different applications of genetics and genomics in areas such as medicine, agriculture, evolution, the environment and biotechnology, and for them to critically evaluate the emerging ethical issues.”

The study in Human Molecular Genetics can be viewed at


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