The key to a revolution in psychiatry may lie in a
deep freeze at the Stanley Research Foundation in Maryland. Stored here
are pieces of brain, sliced paper thin to let researchers see what’s inside.
And what they believe they are seeing are viruses that trigger mental illness.
“In very concrete terms, we are actually thinking
that you have a chronic infection in the brain,” explains Dr. E. Fuller Torrey,
executive director of the foundation. You have viruses in the brain cells
that have changed the chemistry of the cells.”
For 25 years, Torrey has been on a quest to find the
viruses he believes trigger schizophrenia and manic depression.
The theory is simple: Common viruses can sleep
harmlessly in the brain, but can awaken when we are stressed or have a drop in
our immune system. When this happens, a virus can begin to inflame brain
Scientists are not sure why this happens, but they
say some people are more genetically susceptible to the process.
“When I started it,” Torrey says, “it seemed fairly
outrageous to most of my colleagues, But I must admit, it’s almost respectable
So respectable that within a year a trial study will
begin to add antiviral drugs to the medications for a small number of patients
with schizophrenia and manic depression.
“Our eventual goal,” says Dr. Robert Yolken of the
Johns Hopkins Medical School, “would really be to see if we could prevent or
treat these diseases–particularly schizophrenia–by using one of these atni-viral
Yolken has joined Torrey to prove the theory, and if
hey are right, bring relief for a devastating disease.
Deborah Amos, ABC NEWS