Researchers decode ‘disturbed’ faces to track mental disease

February 5th, 2009 - 2:58 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Feb 5 (IANS) Tracking a mental illness like schizophrenia even before it becomes visible could open the way to more successful treatments in future, according to a new study.Building on her groundbreaking work on facial recognition and brain imaging, Talma Hendler, psychologist at the Tel Aviv University (TAU), is hoping to make early diagnosis a reality by identifying physical markers of schizophrenia, inside the brain.

The mechanism behind the abnormal behaviour that characterises many schizophrenic patients has been a mystery. Hendler, a professor, used brain imaging to illustrate differences between the brain activity of schizophrenic patients and healthy adults.

Her work is part of the Functional Human Brain Mapping project at Tel Aviv University.

Hendler’s findings showed that when presented with photographs of emotional faces with “bizarre” characteristics, the brains of schizophrenic patients were much less reactive than established norms, said a TAU release.

“Current drugs treat the abnormal behaviour, not the brain disorder that is causing the behaviour,” she said. “We want to be able to develop more specific treatments based on objective brain markers, which are the actual characteristics of the disease.”

Future work with “funny faces” will also look at basic human emotions such as shame, envy and guilt. Having a neural marker for these emotions might give clinicians an early-detection tool to spot abnormalities in social interactions. Problems in socialising are a hallmark of schizophrenia.

These findings were published recently in the journal of Human Brain Mapping.

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