RWTH Aachen University Hospital Coordinates Cross-Institutional Project in the Nationwide Research Network on Mental Disorders

Copyright: © Uniklinik RWTH Aachen

According to estimations by the World Health Organization, over one billion people are suffering from mental and neurological disorders. Such diseases severely impair the quality of life of those affected. Furthermore, mental disorders result in enormous costs for the healthcare system. For these reasons, starting in the summer of 2014, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research will provide support a new research network on mental disorders. Among the nine cross-institutional projects selected for funding, presented today by Research Minister Professor Johanna Wanka, is the research network “APIC -  Structural and Functional Changes to the Brain Induced by Antipsychotic Medication.” The project is coordinated by RWTH Aachen University Hospital.


The Impact of Drugs and Psychotherapeutic Treatments on the Structure of the Brain

As Professor Frank Schneider, APIC Coordinator and Director of the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics explains, “functional and structural changes in the brain are typically considered the origin or the consequence of a mental disorder. We have evidence, however, that the medical and psychotherapeutic treatments themselves have a considerable impact on the structure of the brain.”

The new research consortium, which consists of RWTH Aachen University Hospital, the universities of Cologne and Düsseldorf, and Forschungszentrum Jülich, will investigate the question of what induces changes in the brain with a focus on patients with schizophrenia.

According to Schneider, schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder which is typically treated with long-term medication. Within the APIC project, in a large-scale clinical trial, the researchers will investigate structural changes in the brain under different medication conditions, using modern imaging techniques.

Furthermore, the changes in the brain as well as therapy successes will be comparatively analyzed for different types of therapy: during the twelve-month study, one group of the over 600 patients will receive medication on a continual basis, while the other group will receive the medication intermittently according to need.

Innovative Neurofeedback: Targeted Brain Training to Alleviate Symptoms

In an APIC sub-project, the schizophrenia patients will not be treated with drugs, but with the help of an innovative neurofeedback method. Frequently, schizophrenia patients suffer from hallucinations such as hearing voices, for example. With the help of a targeted training program using magnetic resonance imaging techniques, patients learn to control the cognitive processes responsible for the perception of voices.

APIC receives about four million Euros in funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.