London: A cheap antibiotic used to treat acne could alleviate symptoms of schizophrenia, international studies say.
The National Institute for Health Research will start 175 recruiting patients for a £1.9m UK trial of the drug, minocycline, next month.
The study comes after a chance observation in Japan caused researchers to test the drug in patients with schizophrenia first in Japan itself, and then all over the world.
Trials have already been held in Israel, Pakistan and Brazil where schizophrenic patients treated with the drug showed significant improvement.
Scientists believe schizophrenia and other mental illnesses including depression and Alzheimer’s disease may result from inflammation in the brain.
Minocycline has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects which could account for the positive findings.
The first account of the antibiotic’s positive effects appeared in 2007, when a 23-year-old Japanese man was admitted to hospital suffering from persecutory delusions and paranoid ideas.
The subject had no psychiatric history and blood tests and brain scans showed nothing unusual.
He was started on halperidol a powerful anti-psychotic drug, but it had no effect. However when he developed severe pneumonia a week later and was prescribed the antibiotic the infection was cleared and the psychosis resolved within two months.
However, minocycline does not work as a cure.
When the patient stopped taking the drug, his psychiatric symptoms got worse again. But another treatment with minocyline made him better again.
The UK trial will recruit patients recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, Jeremy Laurance, a member of the Schizophrenia Commission, told The Independent.
Half the patients will take minocycline with their standard anti-psychotic treatment, the other half will take a placebo.
Brain scans will be carried out at the beginnning and end of the year-long trial to compare loss of grey matter which is an effect of schizophrenia. Tests will also measure inflammatory markers in the blood.
“We welcome the early promise shown by minocycline in treating psychosis in people with schizophrenia,” the Daily Mail quoted Paul Jenkins, CEO of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, as saying.
“Nowhere near enough time or money currently goes into to researching treatments for schizophrenia or other serious mental illnesses, which cause pain and suffering for many thousands of families across the UK,” he said.