Researchers at King’s College Hospital may have made an important breakthrough in the treatment of schizophrenia patients.
Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that affects about one per cent of people at some point. A third of those do not get better with treatment.
King’s doctors think that a brain mechanism called cognitive flexibility that allows people to switch between thinking about two different ideas could be key to treating these people.
King’s researchers carried out a study to test the idea. Twenty one people with schizophrenia who were responding to treatment, twenty who were non-responsive and 34 in a control group were asked to carry out cognitive flexibility tasks. At the same time the researchers were scanning their brains to see how they responded.
The patients that were not getting better with treatment did not have the cognitive flexibility mechanism. This finding could enable doctors to target their illness with more personalised treatment and may help them get better.
Dr Charlotte Horne, lead author and postdoctoral research associate at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London said: “For the first time, we show a fundamental problem in cognitive flexibility in patients with schizophrenia that fail to respond to treatment.
“While this is a small study, the findings are important as they present a clear target for long-term treatment in these patients. Our research also helps us move towards treatment strategies that work for each person, meaning that in future, each patient with schizophrenia has the best chance of recovery.”