"This is a really big breakthrough," says the study's leader, Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D., director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. "The drugs we have for schizophrenia can't cure people who've been sick for years, but this study shows that the newer atypical drugs, if started early, can prevent the illness from progressing. If our findings are confirmed, one could argue that we should treat new patients with atypical drugs like olanzapine rather than older conventional medications such as haloperidol and chlorpromazine."
Gray matter contains the bulk of the brains cell's and the billions of connections among the cells. Loss of gray matter in patients with schizophrenia has been linked to social withdrawal and progressive deterioration in cognition and emotion--which are among the least responsive symptoms to medications.
To see if antipsychotic drugs could slow the initial brain changes in new patients, Dr. Lieberman and colleagues at 14 sites in North America and Europe measured brain volume and cognitive changes in 263 first-episode schizophrenia patients and 58 non-schizophrenic volunteers over a two-year period. Half of the patients received the atypical antipsychotic olanzapine and the other half took the conventional antipsychotic haloperidol. Dr. Lieberman initiated the study when he was professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, which also coordinated the
Contact: Karen Zipern
Columbia University Medical Center