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SCHIZOPHRENIA: a disease of the bone marrow or the brain?

SCHIZOPHRENIA: a disease of the bone marrow or the brain?
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Japanese psychiatrists described an incredible case: a patient with schizophrenia was cured quite by accident – by bone marrow transplantation. However, after they published this story in the scientific journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, it turned out that this is far from the only such case.

The authors of the article began to receive letters describing similar stories of miraculous healing, when patients managed to be accidentally cured of a mental illness – in parallel with the treatment of the underlying disease. And now, a year later, scientists seem to understand how it happens.




Hallucinations in patient N. began at the age of 24. It seemed to him that thoughts were leaking out of his head and other people could see them. And when watching films, the patient imagined that the actors were giving him secret signs, trying to make contact with him. He became nervous, irritable, lost sleep.

Psychiatrist Tsuyoshi Miyaoka diagnosed N. with paranoid schizophrenia and prescribed him a course of antipsychotics. However, the drugs did not help – the disorder turned out to be resistant to drugs.

A year later, the patient’s condition worsened. He began to tire quickly, suffocate, he began to have fever attacks. Another examination showed that N. had acute myeloid leukemia, a type of blood cancer. A bone marrow transplant was needed to save his life.

A donor was found and the transplant was successful. It was then that a miracle happened: the man’s hallucinations disappeared, and with them the feeling of anxiety. His schizophrenia was completely gone.

At first, doctors thought that it was a temporary phenomenon and the disease would return. However, several years have passed since then, and Dr. Miyaoka confirms that the patient does not show any signs of schizophrenia, despite the fact that he no longer takes the pills.



A bone marrow transplant actually reboots the patient’s immune system. Chemotherapy destroys old lymphocytes, and new ones are formed already in the donor organ.

Of course, far-reaching conclusions cannot be drawn from just one case, and it is likely that N. was helped by the drugs he took before and after the transplant operation. But the recovery itself indicates that his mental state had something to do with the immune system.

This is a rather improbable assumption – after all, what does our immunity have to do with the brain? However, more and more researchers are coming to the conclusion that such a connection exists.

The first observations in this area were made more than 100 years ago. At the end of the 19th century, doctors noticed that when a wave of a cold or flu swept through a psychiatric clinic, an increase in temperature caused an improvement in the mental state of patients.



The Austrian doctor Julius Wagner-Jauregg even developed a new method: he infected mental patients with malaria so that they developed a high fever. Some patients died as a result, but many were cured of mental illness. For his discovery, the Austrian was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1927.

Malaria therapy was discontinued in the 1950s as too risky. However, a couple of years ago, another case was described when a mentally ill woman got rid of schizoaffective disorder, having been ill with blood poisoning, which was accompanied by a strong fever.

However, there is also an opposite case. In the Netherlands, a leukemia patient received a bone marrow transplant from a brother who had schizophrenia. The patient was cured of cancer – but he also developed schizophrenia.

Such cases are quite rare, but in recent decades there have been at least a dozen of them all over the planet. And scientists are actively studying the relationship of mental illness with the immune system.

According to Robert Yolken, professor of neurovirology at Johns Hopkins University, about a third of patients with schizophrenia also show signs of an immune imbalance.

“The role of immune activation in serious mental disorders is perhaps the most interesting new direction in the study of such diseases,” The New York Times quoted the professor as saying.

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