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Federal gov’t grants $20M to LIJ to study schizophrenia

Scientists at a North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System institute were awarded a $20 million grant from the federal government to study the effectiveness of new schizophrenia treatments on patients recently diagnosed with the mental illness, the health system said.

The RAISE study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institutes of Health and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act over six years, awarded the grant to scientists at the Zucker Hillside Hospital campus of North Shore LIJ’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.

Usually diagnosed in late adolescence or in a person’s early 20s, schizophrenia is a mental illness that manifests itself in a variety of symptoms, including visual and auditory hallucinations and irrational beliefs that someone is trying to harm the sufferer. About 1 percent of the U.S. population has schizophrenia.

Using the latest schizophrenia treatments, including drugs and psychological therapy, scientists at the institute will select 200 newly diagnosed schizophrenia patients and follow them over time to see if their symptoms improve and if their social and work functioning gets better with the treatments, the health system said.

“This is novel because there has never been an attempt to study the impact of carefully integrated modern pharmacologic and psychosocial treatments in first-episode patients,” said Dr. John Kane, chairman of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, a North Shore-LIJ facility. “This project will give us strategies that may change the course of illness for patients early in the disease process. We have some promising approaches that need to be combined and then tested on individuals in many different kinds of settings.”

The health system said schizophrenia patients have traditionally been given an inconsistent variety of treatments to help sufferers with the illness and it is unclear how early treatment using the latest drugs can improve the condition.

“We hope this study will not only help us to change the course and outcome of schizophrenia, but also to change the way that people think about this brain disease,” Kane said. “Can we do a better job helping patients with a more comprehensive treatment package? We definitely think so.”

The RAISE study is also being conducted by Columbia University’s New York State Psychiatric Institute, which is also receiving $20 million.

Scientists at both institutions will be working independent of each other, North Shore-LIJ said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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