A new brain imaging study of recently diagnosed schizophrenia patients has found, for the first time, that the loss of gray matter typically experienced by patients can be prevented by one of the new atypical antipsychotic drugs, olanzapine, but not by haloperidol, an older, conventional drug. The study, published in todays Archives of General Psychiatry, also confirmed previous studies that show patients who experience less brain loss do better clinically.
"This is a really big breakthrough," says the studys 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 cant cure people whove 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 cells 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.
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