Why schizophrenia research matters.

Schizophrenia is a complex and oft-misunderstood mental disorder that affects about 23 million people worldwide.  

Common symptoms include thoughts or experiences that seem out of touch with reality; disorganized speech or behaviour (positive symptoms); difficulty concentrating or remembering things (cognitive symptoms); or decreased participation in daily activities or a general lack of motivation (negative symptoms). 

People with schizophrenia can experience an improved quality of life with the right treatment plan and social support – however, the path to recovery can sometimes be challenging. 

Firstly, the combination and severity of symptoms vary greatly from person to person, making the right course of treatment more difficult to identify for some. 

Because the causes of schizophrenia are still largely unknown -- and because we have a limited understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms of this disorder – receiving care can be life-long, and often involves a trial-and-error approach that includes a combination of medications; life skills training; individual and/or family therapy; and coordinated specialty care services. 

This lack of knowledge around the disorder often leads to treatment barriers including delayed or mistaken diagnosis and societal stigma. 

Further, while current medications are effective for managing the positive symptoms of schizophrenia, drug therapies to reduce disability, aid with cognitive difficulties, or provide relief from the negative symptoms do not exist. This is why research that helps to uncover the causes of schizophrenia and develop novel treatments is critical.

“When it comes to treatment for schizophrenia, early intervention is so valuable. There are a number of barriers, however, to getting people with schizophrenia the care they need in a timely way, including delayed or mistaken diagnosis. For example, psychiatrists still have to rely on a patient’s description of symptoms and clinical behavioural observations in order to make an accurate diagnosis, which can sometimes mean significant trial and error. Through research, however, we’ve uncovered a new biomarker for schizophrenia that could help people to get the treatment they need faster and hopefully lead to an improved quality of life.”

What we do.

Dedicated research conducted at The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR) in the area of schizophrenia is helping us to better understand underlying biological mechanisms in order to improve diagnostics (both in terms of accuracy and early detection). 

Ongoing research is revealing promising new brain-based biomarkers for schizophrenia; developing new ways of understanding and treating the negative symptoms (i.e. loss of functioning in areas such as emotion expression,  motivation, and social behaviour); and aiming to better assess and treat cognitive difficulties using new technologies such as smartphone applications and virtual reality. 

Researchers at the IMHR also work closely with clinicians in The Royal’s Schizophrenia Program to help better inform care, and quickly translate cutting-edge discoveries to clinical practice. By collecting comprehensive clinical data over time, computer programs will be used to predict outcomes and offer updated and personalized care options to patients throughout their recovery journey.  

Research focus:

  • Understanding underlying biological mechanisms, in particular. changes in the dopamine neurotransmitter system;
  • Negative symptoms, such as lack of motivation and pleasure;
  • Cognitive deficits, such as problems with memory and attention;
  • Optimizing and personalizing care by leveraging transformative technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine-learning