CLINICAL trials of drugs once considered dangerous in the treatment of schizophrenia will now more readily be given the go ahead, one of Australia’s most prominent psychiatrists says, thanks to significant new research that has shown the brains of schizophrenics may be under immune system attack.
Although researchers have suspected a link between immune function and schizophrenia, a lack of evidence meant it was difficult to get funding to trial immune-system suppressing drugs on schizophrenic patients, said the executive director of Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Research Institute, Ian Hickie.
“In order to expose people to dangerous treatments – and immunosuppressive drugs do carry risks – you need serious evidence to suggest those drugs may be useful in treating the condition,” Professor Hickie said.
“In the past, researchers have had great difficulty convincing an ethics committee that this is a treatment strategy for schizophrenia.”
But a study led by the Schizophrenia Research Institute has shown immune cells in a key brain region affected by the condition – once thought to be inactive – are in fact causing inflammation and damage.
“This, in combination with evidence we already have from existing studies, adds to the argument from researchers that it is now reasonable to trial immunosuppressants on schizophrenia patients,” Professor Hickie said.