Bone marrow transplants could cure mental illnesses

Nobel Prize-winning geneticist, Mario Capecchi, suggests that some mental health disorders can be treated with bone marrow transplants. A team of researchers in Utah, led by Capecchi, used the procedure to cure mice with a disorder similar to trichotillomania. Trichotillomania is a psychological condition in humans that causes people to compulsively pull out their hair. The mice suffered from compulsive grooming. They would groom themselves to the point of developing raw patches of skin. Capecchi wondered if the cause of the disorder was not psychological, but the result of faulty immune cells. His award-winning team at the University of Utah discovered certain immune cells that rid the brain of dead cells were not functioning properly in the mice. The geneticist treated the mice with bone marrow and they were cured within months.

This study could have wider implications for a range of disorders, including Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia. While experts have known for years that people with mental disorders tend to have poor immune systems, it was always assumed that their psychiatric illness was the cause. This research shows that it’s the other way around. It’s the immune system that is causing the mental health issues.


Bone marrow transplants carry significant risks. It’s a very dangerous procedure and kills 1% of all patients who undergo it. Capecchi isn’t recommending it to be used on people. However, the findings will lead to more research into immune-based therapies for mental disorders. “The book is just opened, and so there are many, many possibilities,” Capecchi told Cell, a scientific journal.

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