A new study from Cardiff University in the UK may have figured out how to predict risk for schizophrenia.

"We already know that the brains of people with schizophrenia are wired differently and are less efficient than healthy people," Derek Jones, study co-author and director of CU’s Brain Research Imaging Center, said in a press release. "However, until now, no study has tried to use this information to look at healthy individuals with some of the same symptoms but without actually having the condition."

Jones and his team used a specific technique when conducting MRI scans on nearly 250 participants: 123 participants were vulnerable to psychosis, or schizophrenia, and 125 were not. The technique is rooted in “graph theory,” which allows researchers to examine a person’s complex brain network or the “hub” central to a person’s information processing. Typically, graph theory is reserved for computer science, but lately, there’s been an increasing number of neuroscientists and psychiatrists using it in their respective fields in an effort to better understand how exactly the brain alters in those with mental illness.

The results of these particular scans showed the brain’s ability to transmit information from one region to another were reduced in those vulnerable to psychosis, with some information pathways completely rerouting. This suggests the brains in vulernable participants may be predisposed to dysfunction.

However, Dr. Mark Drakesmith, who led the study, added the changes the team found were "extremely subtle." "However, using a specific type of … MRI, which maps the wiring of the brain," he said, "we have made some key discoveries that would not have been detected using more established brain imaging techniques."

Ultimately, researchers hope their insight into how the wiring of a person’s brain can increase risk for schizophrenia symptoms will lead to new tools that predict future illness. And they hope to conduct further research to explore more why these brain changes progress for some participants, while they don’t in others.

The World Health Organization estimates 26 million people around the world are affected by schizophrenic disorders; it’s a relapsing condition but can be controlled with medication. The latter is a lesser known fact of schizophrenia, perhaps because it's one of the more stigmatized mental illnesses. A separate study published in the journal Schizophrenia Research motions the disorder be renamed altogether, in order to reduce the stigma and improve the overall conversation.

Source: Drakesmith M, et al. Schizophrenia-like topological changes in the structural connectome of individuals with subclinical psychotic experiences. Human Brain Mapping. 2015.