FRUIT flies could hold the key to uncovering the causes of psychiatric conditions.

A year-long international project, which is being led by Bournemouth University’s Dr Kevin McGhee, is hoping to identifying the genes involved in the development of schizophrenia.

The researchers are using fruit flies to isolate and examine genes associated with the condition, with the hope of improving understanding about the illness and developing new treatments.

Dr McGhee, a senior lecturer in health sciences at BU, said: “In psychiatric genetics, a lot of time and money has been invested in large, genome-wide studies to find the genes that are involved.

“Now, we want to find out what the functions of those genes are. If you can do that, the ultimate impact is that you can design better treatments.”

The team at BU is working alongside researchers from the National University of Ireland in Galway and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

BU students are also taking part in the project by carrying out lab-based examinations on the fruit flies for their dissertations.

The research involves isolating and “switching off” the genes that previous research has indicated plays a role in schizophrenia, before examining the effect of the flies’ nerve cells at different life stages.

“If we can prove that it works and can be applied to human psychiatric genetics, then it helps create a cheap and easy functional model that is beneficial to everyone,” Dr McGhee said.

“I believe that what we find out from these genetic studies will help infer what is going on biologically, and that will ultimately lead to better treatment.”

And he hopes to help raise awareness about the condition and potential ways of treating it in the future.

Dr McGhee said: “Impact is really important for research and open access really helps to achieve that – as anyone can see it, whether they are students, doctors charities, policy makers, whoever.

“I think hopefully another impact of this work will be to better show where we are with this research, which again goes back to open access – helping people to see that there are hundreds of markers and hundreds of genes and they each have a very small effect.

“Ultimately we want to educate healthcare professionals, policy makers and eventually the public – the patients and families who suffer from psychiatric diseases – so that they are better informed.”