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Grant will help patients with schizophrenia who smoke

A £200,000 grant has been awarded to researchers at Queen’s to help establish why people with schizophrenia are three times more likely to smoke than the general population.

It is hoped the Medical Research Council award will help the scientists discover improved treatments for nicotine dependence - which can result in increased rates of illness and death from smoking-related diseases - as well as treatments for the symptoms of schizophrenia.

The funding will provide a three-year fellowship for Dr Ruth Barr, a psychiatrist in the School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Dr Barr hopes to build on research she has carried out during a fellowship at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts on the effects of nicotine on attention and memory in schizophrenia.

The effects of nicotine withdrawal will be measured on around 40 volunteers, including both those with and without the condition.

Dr Barr said: “The reasons behind the increased need to smoke in patients with schizophrenia are unclear, although certain symptoms of this illness may increase vulnerability to nicotine dependence.

“Schizophrenia is associated with cognitive impairments – including deficits in inhibitory control which may make it more difficult for patients to resist the impulse to smoke.

“We propose to investigate the effects of nicotine and nicotine withdrawal in smokers with and without schizophrenia on response inhibition, measured using a computer task.

“Cognitive abilities are believed to get worse during nicotine withdrawal and we want to establish if this deterioration is greater in patients with schizophrenia.

“In addition, we will investigate the mechanism of nicotine’s effects on task performance using brain scanning and a measure of brain electrical activity.

“If we can understand why patients with schizophrenia are more likely to smoke it could enable us to develop new treatments for nicotine dependence and symptoms of schizophrenia.”

Dr Barr will be supervised by Professors Stephen Cooper and Professor Gavin Reynolds from the Division of Psychiatry and Neuroscience in the School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Lisa Mitchell | alfa
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