Professor Sir Robin Murray on BBC Radio 4


Chair of The Schizophrenia Commission Professor Sir Robin Murray features in a  fascinating interview for  ’BBC Radio 4′s The Life Scientific’. He discusses the evolution of research into schizophrenia and psychosis, and how he has changed his views about the causal factors.

In early research, there were many theories but not much evidence; a belief that schizophrenia was an untreatable degenerative  brain disease akin to Alzheimer’s was replaced by the notion of social causal factors -upbringing and ‘schizophrenogenic mothers’; This was opposed by the biological school of thought which advocated neurochemistry and genetics as the sole causal factors. This is a dispute which Professor Sir Robin Murray believes held back the progress of research until recently.

“Rather than see social and neuroscience in opposition I would think that we should use them together… the [biological vs social] dispute has held up progress in research for a long time.”

Professor Sir Robin Murray acknowledges his shifts of investigative stance; from early 1970s as psychosocial , to brain studies, to publishing a study detailing  the relationship of schizophrenia or psychosis with childhood developmental  abnormalities. Then returning again in 2000′s to social factors such as migration. He goes on to discuss recent findings suggesting use of Cannabis, particularly skunk which contains high levels of the chemical THC  ”dramatically increases the risk of psychotic episodes”- but this is not to say it definitely leads to developing schizophrenia by itself.

“The simplistic notion that [schizophrenia] ‘only a brain disease’, combined with bad psychiatry is fairly toxic. The standard of psychiatry and mental health services up and down the country is not that good. If you have 20 people coming to an outpatient clinic, it’s easier to prescribe a pill than spend half an hour talking about psychological factors. But just because something is psychological does not mean it is easy to remedy. We could abolish 30% of schizophrenia if nobody lived in towns or cities.”

Difficulties that arise when investigating biological factors for a disorder that is defined by peoples thoughts will be overcome, Robin Murray believes,  as the biological basis of thinking is further understood. Similarly the studies of of psychological and social factors are now becoming larger and more sophisticated and consequently more believeable.

“The difficulty has been that biological technologies have been so distant from the clinic,  now it is  getting closer. There are two big ways forward – one is  studying the interaction between particular genes and particular environments, the other is using brain imaging techniques to study individual vulnerabilities to a particular adversity”.

 ”The essence of us is our brain, in extreme circumstances you can get a artificial heart or kidney, you can’t have a substiute brain”