Schizophrenia study receives grant


NMU’s psychology department has received a three-year, $185,000 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to aid research on several new drugs designed to treat schizophrenia.

This research will study the reactions in the brain to schizophrenia and reactions to schizophrenia medications, said Adam Prus, assistant professor of psychology and head of the research.

He said he wrote an extensive application asking the NIMH to fund a large study to observe the effects of these new drugs.

“The grants are very competitive; you really must have the best application,” Prus said. “Right now, of all the applications that they receive, they may only fund the top 5 percent of them.”

Prus added that grant applications usually go through several rounds of revision before the applicant is given the money, but his application went through the first round.

“[The grants] usually go to colleges like the University of Michigan and Michigan State University-the big colleges,” he said. “The fact that we got it first round and the fact that we got a large amount of money suggests that we are doing some cutting-edge research here at Northern.”

The grant money will fund several aspects of the experiment. Prus said that most of it will be used for, supplies, care of lab animals, experiments, salaries of the students working on the project and conference travel.

The experiments are simple behavioral and neurochemical tests on lab rats. The rats are injected with one of the drugs and tested for memory and attention span in a maze, or neurochemical activity in their brain, said Prus.

Most drugs used to treat schizophrenia can only treat a couple symptoms such as paranoia and hallucinations, he said. The research at NMU should determine if the new drugs can treat cognitive symptoms, such as loss of memory and attention.

He said that patients with schizophrenia have a loss of cognitive functioning which leads to unsuccessful lives outside of the hospital. Prus explained that unemployment, depression and suicide are very high among these patients.

“They have a hard time just conducting normal everyday living activities, like having good hygiene and feeding themselves appropriately,” Prus said. “They tend to be estranged from family and have a hard time making friends. All these things probably contribute to a very impoverished life.”

He said that the research funded by the NIMH grant could get these new drugs into the hands of people with schizophrenia within the next 10 to 15 years and do a great deal to improve their quality of life.

There are 18 psychology students working on this research with Prus this semester, but it will vary every semester.

“They are the heart of this laboratory; they do everything in terms of conducting research,” Prus said.

Sarah Jacobson, a first-year graduate student and experimental psychology major, is one of the students involved in the schizophrenia research. She said the experience has taught her some valuable things to help her along the way in psychology.

“I did not realize how time consuming running an experiment could be,” she said. “You think, ‘Oh there are only 10 subjects? Well that should not take too long.’ But there are a million things that could go wrong.”

Also assisting Prus with his research is Lindsay Goboly, a junior psychology behavioral analysis major.

“I have always been interested in the scientific aspects of psychology and saw this study as the perfect opportunity to combine my love for science and psychology,” Goboly said.

She said that she has realized how important the research could be for people with schizophrenia.

We actually see how it could improve people’s lives,” Goboly said. “It’s nice to finally complete it and say, okay now, this could really help somebody.”