Researchers at the King’s College Hospital in London are working on an all-new approach to treat schizophrenia, a mental disorder characterized by hallucinations, delusions and other cognitive malfunctions. The therapeutic intervention is based on the emerging scientific evidence that consider schizophrenia as a disease of immune system.
A 33-year-old man from Cameroon, suffering from schizophrenia, became the first patient on Nov. 2, 2017, to be treated with this therapeutic approach. The experiment builds on a decade of research by Oliver Howes, a professor of molecular psychiatry at the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences. Howes’ team is among the several other pioneers across the world who are able to establish an association between schizophrenia and abnormalities in immune activity in the brain.
“In the past, we’ve always thought of the mind and the body being separate, but it’s just not like that…The mind and body interact constantly and the immune system is no different. It’s about changing the way we think about mental illnesses,” said Howes. Recently, Howes and his colleagues reported a surge in the number and activity of immune cells in the brain in the initial stages of schizophrenia. These cells, called microglia, usually prune unwanted connections between neurons. But in patients of schizophrenia, according to the researchers, the pruning seems to get more aggressive, leading to loss of vital connections between the neurons.
In the next two years, 30 patients with schizophrenia will be treated using immunotherapy. They will be administered monthly infusions of an antibody drug used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS). The treatment will address the root causes of schizophrenia. According to Howes, schizophrenia is still being treated using drugs based on 1950s technology that are not potent enough to target the delusion side of things.
Prevalence of schizophrenia in US
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), schizophrenia is a severe brain disease affecting 1 percent people in the U.S. Such individuals often lead a delusional life. As the condition worsens, it could result in emotional and behavioral problems, further leading to social isolation, depression and attention deficit, among others. In the U.S., the economic burden related to schizophrenia has been found to be around $60 billion per year.
Previous studies found that a combination of genetics and environmental factors might cause this mental illness. According to a December 2016 study presented at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Annual Meeting in Hollywood, Florida, chemical imbalances in the brain may be linked to schizophrenia.
Do not let people with schizophrenia lose hope
Studies indicated that 25 percent people with schizophrenia recover completely. While 50 percent of people struggling with schizophrenia improved over a 10-year period, 25 percent failed to get better over time. Also, nearly 50 percent of people diagnosed with schizophrenia did not get any treatment. Schizophrenia can be treated, provided it is reported and diagnosed well in time. Treatment would help improve symptoms. However, psychiatrists, primary care doctors, social workers, along with families of the patients, should work together to complement treatment and decrease recovery time.
Moreover, caregivers should support patients of schizophrenia and motivate them to pursue self-help strategies like staying positive and working toward recovery. Many people with schizophrenia have recovered to a point where they are living functional and rewarding social lives with their family and friends. When it comes to treatment outcome, the amount of time between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis, and subsequent treatment is crucial. Sooner the treatment, better the outlook for improvement and recovery.
Road to recovery
If you know someone suffering from any mental health problem, including schizophrenia, help him or her get in touch with a certified outpatient mental health helpline center. Contact the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline, one of the finest outpatient mental health helpline in the U.S., to seek help from the best mental health counselors. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online to find one of the finest mental health treatment centers available near you.