An international team of researchers has discovered an incredibly scary - but also hopeful - characteristic of the brains of schizophrenia patients.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the new study reveals that the brains of those with schizophrenia attempt to repair themselves, which suggests that they might have the ability to take preventative measures against the illness.

Using MRI scans and a special method called "covariance analysis," the team examined 98 patients with schizophrenia and 83 without and was able to discern differences in brain tissue increases. The study marks the first time that this method has been used to reveal the ability of the brain to reverse the effects of the illness.

"Even the state-of-art frontline treatments aim merely for a reduction rather than a reversal of the cognitive and functional deficits caused by the illness," said Lena Palaniyappan of the London Health Sciences Centre and co-author of the study. "Our results highlight that despite the severity of tissue damage, the brain of a patient with schizophrenia is constantly attempting to reorganize itself, possibly to rescue itself or limit the damage."

With this new knowledge, researchers can now focus on a more rigorous scanning of the brains of patients with early schizophrenia in order to get a better picture of the repair process that takes place in the brain.

"These findings are important not only because of their novelty and the rigor of the study, but because they point the way to the development of targeted treatments that potentially could better address some of the core pathology in schizophrenia," said Jeffrey Reiss, also of the LHSC and co-author of the study. "Brain plasticity and the development of related therapies would contribute to a new optimism in an illness that was 100 years ago described as premature dementia for its seemingly progressive deterioration."

Ultimately, the results provide hope for better understanding schizophrenia and using the brains own power to help patients recover from the illness.

"We are excited that Dr. Palaniyappan will be continuing this important clinical research here in London with his international colleagues," said Paul Links of the LHSC, who was not involved in the study.

The findings were published in the May 26 issue of the journal Psychological Medicine.