Schizophrenia Research Team

From left: Dr Celia Van Der Merwe, Prof Raj Ramesar and Ms. Lerato Majara

Schizophrenia (SCZ) is a multifactorial, long-term, complex psychiatric disorder involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion and behaviour, often characterised by inconsistent or contradictory elements. The disease affects approximately 24 million individuals worldwide, with an age at onset ranging from 15 to 45 years. In an African context, it is estimated that between 4 and 5 million African individuals suffer from a psychiatric disorder, and SCZ accounts for approximately 10% of the health burden in sub-Saharan Africa.

Since 2014, in a collaboration with the Dept. of Psychiatry, we have embarked on a project called 'Schizophrenia in the South African Xhosa population (SAX).

The objective of SAX is to identify genes responsible for SCZ in the Xhosa population. It is hypothesized that critical genes will harbour multiple mutations leading to the disorder, with each affected individual harbouring a different severe mutation. Additionally, we hypothesize that the loci implicated in SCZ in the Xhosa population may be different to those found in European groups. The aim is to recruit and obtain DNA samples from 1100 schizophrenia Xhosa patients and 1100 Xhosa controls. The study involves whole exome sequencing and to compare genomic differences between the 1100 cases and 1100 controls. We are also in the process of designing a high-density micro-array chip for genome wide association studies (GWAS) as well as ascertaining copy number variance as potential cause of disease.

To date, we have recruited 940 cases and 600 controls, of which 796 have been sequenced. Recruitment is not yet completed, but we hope to reach our target of 1100 each this year.

For more information on Schizophrenia, see the Fact sheet.

Published paper:

M Campbell, E Susser, J de Vries et al., 2015. Exploring researchers’ experiences of working with a researcher-driven, population-specific community advisory board in a South African schizophrenia genomics study. BMC Medical Ethics 16: 45

SCHIZOPHRENIA: Current Project Members

Dr Celia Van Der Merwe:

Celia Van Der Merwe is a postdoctoral research fellow whose focus is determining the underlying genetic causes of Schizophrenia in the South African population.

Lerato Majara:

Lerato Majara is a PhD Student in the Division, and her project is titled, "Identification of common and rare genetic variants contributing to Schizophrenia in a South African population".