Leading schizophrenia researcher, Professor Cyndi Shannon Weickert, has discovered that a brain receptor that normally stimulates growth in adolescence is hampered in people with schizophrenia.
The findings open up new opportunities for treatments for schizophrenia, commencing with a world first, three-year clinical drug trial this month.
Professor Shannon Weickert, who holds Australia's first Chair of Schizophrenia Research, led the research which has recently been published in Human Molecular Genetics.
Her position is a joint initiative of UNSW, the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute and the Schizophrenia Research Institute.
"We now know that this brain receptor doesn't work in the normal way for people with schizophrenia. With this drug trial we can begin to stimulate it and try and get the neurodevelopmental program back on track.
For some patients we could see improvements in language and memory," says Professor Shannon Weickert from the School of Psychiatry.
Researchers are recruiting 80 male and female patients with schizophrenia who will receive this new therapy in addition to their ongoing medication.
For six weeks, patients will take a drug called raloxifene - a drug which is already used for cancer and osteoporosis - but this is a new application for it.
Raloxifene is a hormonal modulator that stimulates the oestrogen receptor in the brain. It does not simulate the oestrogen receptor in other parts of the body.
The aim is to learn how this hormonal modulator can influence thought processing in schizophrenia and determine whether it could be used as a novel therapeutic treatment for cognitive problems in patients.
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