People at risk of developing schizophrenia may soon be identified years before they develop any symptoms, psychiatrists have said.
Experts believe it may be possible to prevent the onset of the disease
Research carried out on people considered to be high risk has led to hopes that treatment could be offered to help prevent the onset of the disease.
Experts at the University of Edinburgh have been tracking a group of more than 150 people with a high risk of developing schizophrenia since 1994.
The individuals, who come from all over Scotland, were considered high risk as they had two or more close relatives with the disease.
Since the study began, 20 of the group have gone on to develop schizophrenia.
Psychiatrists compared them with the rest and found clear differences which they claim may be used to help identify the condition at an early stage.
We may be able to detect this condition years in advance which will allow us to use interventions to prevent these patients becoming ill
Dr Stephen Lawrie
University of Edinburgh
Professor Eve Johnstone, of the university's department of psychiatry, said the research identified 38 different factors between the high risk individuals who have developed schizophrenia and those who had less severe symptoms or who remained completely well.
She added that changes were found in the function and anatomy of their brain and said it was also shown that those who develop the disease suffer from much higher levels of anxiety, depression and memory loss prior to falling ill.
"If we could treat the anxiety, the depression and the memory loss, we may be able to hold them in a state of vulnerability, but in a way that stops the individual cards from falling and bringing the whole house down," she said.
Dr Stephen Lawrie, who was also involved in the research, claimed it may one day be possible to run a diagnostic test for schizophrenia.
"We may be able to detect this condition years in advance which will allow us to use interventions to prevent these patients becoming ill with what has been described as the worst disease affecting mankind."