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Scientists in Scotland using brain cells to investigate mental health treatments

Boffins at Edinburgh University hope to gain a better understanding of how mental illnesses work by growing brain cells from people in families which have a history of mental problems.

It is hoped that this study will help to find new treatments.

Previously, scientists have been forced to rely on brain cells from deceased donors in order to study the mechanics of conditions such as bipolar and schizophrenia.

The Edinburgh University project, which has recently received a £1 million funding boost from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, believe that having the ability to use live cells will provide them with more accurate results.

It also cuts down on the need to carry out tests on lab mice and other creatures.

"We are making different types of brain cells out of skin samples from people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia,” Andrew McIntosh, a professor of biological psychiatry at the university, said.

"Once we have grown these in the laboratory we can then study the cells' neurological function and see how they respond to standard psychiatric treatments. Following this we hope to be able to screen new medicines."

Currently, few effective medications exist for people suffering with a bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. It is estimated that between one per cent and four per cent of the world’s population suffers from one of these disorders.

The causes are unclear but the scientists in Edinburgh believe that there could be a genetic component involved.

It is estimated that one every 100 people in the UK are bipolar and there has been some high profile cases. Last year Hollywood actress Catherine Zeta Jones received treatment for type 2 bipolar, while actors Ben Stiller, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Stephen Fry have all had the disorder in the past.

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