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The goal is personalised medicine for patients with schizophrenia

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Posted June 12, 2019

No more trial and error: If things go as Professor Søren Dinesen Østergaard and his new Postdoc Fredrik Hieronymus hope, patients with schizophrenia will be treated using personalised medicine in the not so distant future. The research project is supported by the Lundbeck Foundation to the tune of DKK 1.6 million.

Individualised treatment of patients with schizophrenia where the first prescribed medication is based on the patient’s individual characteristics – and therefore more likely to work.

Fredrik Hieronymus (left) and Søren Dinesen Østergaard will investigate whether the individual patient’s personal characteristics such as e.g. genetic profile, can predict which antipsychotic medication will work optimally for him or her. Photo credit: Fredrik Hieronymus and Søren Dinesen Østergaard

Fredrik Hieronymus (left) and Søren Dinesen Østergaard will investigate whether the individual patient’s personal characteristics such as e.g. genetic profile, can predict which antipsychotic medication will work optimally for him or her. Photo credit: Fredrik Hieronymus and Søren Dinesen Østergaard

This is the idea behind the research project ‘Personalizing Antipsychotic Treatment of Schizophrenia’ (PATOS), which is now beginning under the leadership of Professor Søren Dinesen Østergaard from the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University. He will be working together with Fredrik Hieronymus from the University of Gothenburg, who has recently been employed in a two-year postdoc position at the Department of Clinical Medicine in Aarhus.

The hope is to move beyond the trial and error approach that is the current practice in the treatment of schizophrenia. As things are now, no one knows why some drugs work for one patient with schizophrenia but not for the next patient. A trial and error approach is therefore necessary:

“There are many antipsychotic drugs available and they are roughly equally effective when tested in clinical trials, where the participating patients’ individual characteristics are not taken into account. Therefore, in their daily clinical practice, psychiatrists are left with no other options than the trial and error approach – choosing pretty much in the blind. The consequence is that it can take several failed trials and a lot of time before we find an effective medication with tolerable side effects for a given patient with schizophrenia. This approach is unsatisfactory for everyone involved – especially the patients, obviously”, says Søren Dinesen Østergaard.

Data from Danish registers and biobanks

In the new project, Fredrik Hieronymus and Søren Dinesen Østergaard will investigate whether the individual patient’s personal characteristics such as e.g. sex, age at onset of schizophrenia and genetic profile, can predict which antipsychotic medication will work optimally for him or her. They will do so with the help of data from the comprehensive Danish registers together with genetic data stemming from the Danish Statens Serum Institute’s (SSI) biobank with heel prick blood samples. The project is being carried out in collaboration with researchers from the Lundbeck Foundation Initiative for Integrative Psychiatric Research (iPSYCH).

“What we’re hoping to do with this project is really to move closer to a scenario where the first medication used to treat a newly-diagnosed patient with schizophrenia is also the right one. That would make life much easier for the approximately 0.8% of the population who suffer from this serious disease,” says Søren Dinesen Østergaard. In Denmark, approx. 40,000 people live with schizophrenia – slightly more men than women are affected.

Many roads lead to Aarhus

The project receives DKK 1.6 million in support from the Lundbeck Foundation. Initially, Søren Dinesen Østergaard and Fredrik Hieronymus aimed at getting a Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant from the EU. This type of application involves that the future postdoc takes part in a preliminary three-day masterclass at the university, which is paid for by Health:

“We didn’t secure the grant from the EU, but we did receive a very positive assessment and then we succeeded the next time we tried. So in terms of recruitment alone, the Health masterclass was certainly instrumental in bringing Fredrik to Aarhus – and this is an important reminder that many different roads can lead to our University,” says Søren Dinesen Østergaard.

Source: Aarhus University

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