YOUR HEALTH: Stem cell treatments could replace some drugs for schizophrenia

Researchers are studying stem cells in the brain that target the root cause of schizophrenia.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Schizophrenia is a difficult mental disorder that causes a person to lose touch with reality.

Because the symptoms can be so severe, it's treated with strong drugs.  But they have side effects.

So, a Texas scientist has unveiled a different approach that may be a game changer.

"When people hear schizophrenia or psychosis, they immediately go to what they see in movies, the quote unquote crazy person and that's not what schizophrenia is," explained Dr. Daniel Lodge, an Associate Professor at UT Health San Antonio.

TREATMENT:   With medication, psychosocial rehabilitation, and family support, the symptoms of schizophrenia can be reduced.  Typically, a health care provider will prescribe antipsychotics to relieve symptoms of psychosis, such as delusions and hallucinations.   Due to lack of awareness and the serious side effects of medication used to treat schizophrenia, people who have been prescribed drugs are often hesitant to take them.

Scientists believe schizophrenia starts in utero, but the symptoms, such as hallucinations, paranoia and social withdrawal, don't appear until a person is in their teens.

"Like I was hearing voices. I was seeing things, honestly I thought everybody heard voices," recalled Fonda White.

He saw dark, shadowy figures, scary to a small child.   In many ways, it was like a horror movie.

Now he's a peer specialist taking meds.

"The problem with these drugs is that they have side effects," said Lodge.

Like weight gain, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, and constipation.

That's why researchers are studying stem cells in the brain that target the root cause.

Daniel Lodge experimented with rodents and discovered that inserting stem cells into the brains of the control group improved their cognitive function.    And at the end of a long research road, researchers say stem cell treatments could have a tremendous effect on people such as Fonda with better quality of life.

"This is very powerful because not only is it building their ability to become independent, but also to achieve their dreams, the things they want to do in life," said licensed professional counsellor Marina Robertson.

NEW RESEARCH:   Schizophrenia patients show dysregulated activity in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, two regions known to regulate dopamine neuron activity.   These deficits in hippocampal and prefrontal cortical function are thought to result, in part, from reductions in inhibitory interneuron function in these brain regions.   Therefore, it has been hypothesized that restoring interneuron function in the hippocampus and/or prefrontal cortex may be an effective treatment strategy for schizophrenia.

And Fonda White has advice for anyone suffering.

"If anybody's going through it or you feel like somebody's having symptoms or something like that, definitely help them."

"Don't lose hope on it."

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.