A controversial experiment that targets adolescents believed to be at risk of developing schizophrenia is getting ready to expand. The study, the subject of a Wall Street Journal article on 26 July 2000, is expected to be funded primarily by the makers of schizophrenia drugs.
The idea for the study is to use schizophrenia drugs as both preventative and palliative agents. The adolescents will be tested with powerful antipsychotic drugs (which are already approved for full-blown schizophrenia) before they develop definitive symptoms of shizophrenia. The unorthodox study may sweep troubled teens into a treatment group when there is nothing wrong with them.
No health system in the world identifies adolescents in the prodromol or pre-onset stage of schizophrenia. This vast expansion of the $5 billion-a-year anti-psychotic drug market raises the question of whether the drug companies are creating a new illness that requires drug treatment before the parameters of the disease are proven.
The big question is how well will investigators be able to identify which adolescents will ultimately develop schizophrenia. Anti-psychotic drugs are known for their unpleasant side effects. Adolescents should not be exposed to them for no reason.
The 28 April 2000 issue Science magazine reported the "Location of a major susceptibility locus for familial schizophrenia on chromosome 1q21-q22," which may help lead to better diagnostic tests to identify which subjects are at a resonably high risk of becoming psychotic in the near term.
The current study, underway at Yale University, is testing both the ability of clinicians to determine whether patients are predisoposed to schizophrenia and the effectiveness of the antipsychotic drugs in delaying or preventing the illness. The expanded experiment would have the same dual goals, but would test a larger number of antipsychotic agents on an international population and receive funding from the government, foundations and drug companies.
The details of the larger study have yet to be worked out. The trial would require at least 1500 patients ranging in age from 15-25. It is hoped the study will take place in at least six to eight contries of varying wealth and status.