Hoffnung für Schizophrenie-Erkrankte: Startschuss für das APIC-Forschungsprojekt
Photo: Launch of APIC. From left to right: Chancellor of RWTH Aachen University Manfred Nettekoven, Parliamentary State Secretary Thomas Rachel, JARA-BRAIN Director Prof. Dr. Dr. Frank Schneider, member of Jülich’s Board of Directors Prof. Dr. Sebastian M. Schmidt, and Michael van Brederode, commercial director of LVR-Klinik Düren
Around 800,000 people in Germany suffer from schizophrenia. Nevertheless, this mental illness is not as well researched as depression or dementia. A new, large-scale research project is set to change this. On 12 May 2015 at the specialized clinic for psychiatry and psychotherapy “LVR-Klinik” in Düren, Parliamentary State Secretary Thomas Rachel together with representatives of the brain research alliance JARA-BRAIN officially launched the research project “APIC – Antipsychotic-induced structural and functional changes in the brain”. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is providing APIC with funding worth € 4 million.
In 2007, JARA-BRAIN was set up to pool the neuropsychiatric expertise of various clinical departments and institutes at RWTH Aachen University and Forschungszentrum Jülich. RWTH Aachen University coordinates the APIC research alliance, which also involves the universities in Cologne and Düsseldorf, LVR-Klinik in Düren, and other hospitals, as well as practising physicians in the Rhineland region.
APIC is one of nine collaborative projects being funded by BMBF as part of a new research network on mental disorders
Mental disorders have become widespread. At least 40% of the population in Germany are affected at least once by such illnesses during the course of their lives. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is addressing this by launching a new research initiative that aims to create new concepts for effective prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders, says Parliamentary State Secretary Thomas Rachel.
APIC is one of nine collaborative projects selected for funding by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the new research network on mental disorders. “We were particularly impressed by the close collaboration of RWTH Aachen University and Forschungszentrum Jülich with practising partners such as LVR-Klinik here in Düren,” emphasizes Parliamentary State Secretary Rachel. “Those involved in the project hope that this collaboration will help to considerably improve the quality of life for those suffering from the mental disorder and their families,” he continues.
Chancellor Manfred Nettekoven accepted the official notification of the decision on behalf of RWTH Aachen University: “RWTH Aachen University has recognized the social and political relevance of neuropsychiatric issues. They are one of the medical research priorities at our university.”
At Forschungszentrum Jülich, neuroscientists in various institutes have also been working for many years on the causes of mental disorders and new methods of diagnosing and treating them. “JARA-BRAIN and APIC provide us with an excellent framework for applying our expertise in basic research and imaging,” says Prof. Dr. Sebastian M. Schmidt, member of the Board of Directors of Forschungszentrum Jülich.
APIC investigates changes in the brains of those suffering from schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is often slow to develop. This is why the disorder is frequently detected at a late stage. On top of this, the causes of schizophrenia have not been fully clarified. “What we do know today is that a combination of different factors plays a role, such as genetics, environmental factors, and a person’s own experience,” says Prof. Dr. Dr. Frank Schneider. The psychiatrist and psychotherapist is Director of the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics at University Hospital Aachen, which is coordinating the research project on schizophrenia. Just as varied as the causes are the symptoms of the disorder, ranging from nervousness, irritability, and panic to hallucinations and delusions such as hearing voices or paranoia.
Schizophrenia is usually treated with an individual combination of medications, psychotherapy, and other therapeutic approaches. Surprisingly, certain areas of the brains of people suffering from schizophrenia appear different to those of healthy individuals. As part of APIC, the scientists will administer diverse drugs in a large-scale clinical study and use state-of-the-art imaging techniques to investigate changes in the brains of patients suffering from schizophrenia. They will additionally compare modifications in the brain brought about by the different types of treatment as well as the effectiveness of each treatment. During the study, one group of the over 600 patients will take the drugs on a continual basis to prevent a relapse while another group will only take them when acute symptoms appear.
In addition to treating patients with drugs, another subproject within APIC will investigate the effect of an innovative therapy using neurofeedback. With targeted training in an MRI scanner, the patients will learn how to regulate processes in the brain such as those that produce voices.
PING initiative to create open access database for all BMBF neuroimaging studies
JARA-BRAIN will provide the other eight project partners with access to its imaging expertise: the nationwide initiative PING (Psychiatric Imaging Network Germany) aims to standardize the imaging data collected in all collaborative projects, ensure their quality, and make them accessible for future analyses within the network. This project aims to create an open access database for all neuroimaging studies within the BMBF research network and exploit open data exchange as a basis for national and international evaluations.