Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia patients are being sought
Tuesday, August 6, 2002
The National Institute of Mental Health is looking for Hawaii patients with Alzheimer's disease or schizophrenia for two major studies on relatively new drugs.
The Queen's Medical Center is one of few sites selected in the national multicenter study to conduct research on both diseases.
The goal is to see if new medications prescribed to treat schizophrenia and psychotic symptoms in Alzheimer's patients improve mental and physical health and reduce emergency room visits.
"It's real good for patients, for the community, our nation and our reputation," said Dr. Alan Buffenstein, University of Hawaii assistant professor of psychiatry and clinical director for Queen's Counseling Services. Buffenstein is chief investigator for the schizophrenia study.
Dr. Douglas Smith, UH assistant professor of psychiatry, is working with him.
Dr. Iqbal "Ike" Ahmed, UH professor of psychiatry associated with Hawaii State Hospital and Queen's, is principal investigator for the Alzheimer's study.
The researchers will receive nearly $1 million in grants and medicines for the project over the next three years.
Buffenstein said the economic impact of schizophrenia "is huge, and even small improvements are important.
"As evidenced all too tragically for us here in Honolulu, the recent problem with the patient who got out of control at the Ala Wai brings up again all sorts of issues about schizophrenia, the success and utility of medication treatment, and so on."
Buffenstein is trying to recruit 30 patients -- so far he has 13 -- who could stay in the initial part of the schizophrenia study for 18 months. They would be followed officially for up to two years, with periodic evaluations after that, he said.
Ahmed has signed up nine people and wants at least 15 for a nine-month study of new antipsychotic medications for Alzheimer's patients.
"There is no good experimental data which shows which medications might work best in what type of people and in what type of symptoms and what are the side effects," he said.
The local studies are part of a $45 million NIMH research project called "Clinical Antipsychotic Trials of Intervention Effectiveness."
"Whatever the results are, they will be published," Buffenstein said, pointing out there is no particular bias.
The only drug trials up to now have been sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry, which is more interested in short-term studies to show medications are safe and get them to the market, he said.
"But the reality is, schizophrenia is a chronic illness, and all these medications are very special, unique compounds. They don't really cure schizophrenia, but control it like insulin controls diabetes."
The illness tends to recur when people stop taking the medications, he said. "Schizophrenia causes people to be very flat, withdrawn, and not really connect with others too much. ... It's a huge burden on the economy because it stops people from going to work and being useful."
Some older medications cause deformities in terms of movement disorders, weight gain, high diabetes and premature deaths, he said.
An estimated 10,000 Hawaii residents have schizophrenia, with about 4,000 on the Medicaid rolls, Buffenstein said.
Commonly prescribed atypical antipsychotic drugs are being examined, free to patients, plus the newest drug for schizophrenia and a new antidepressant for Alzheimer's patients.
Insurance companies are interested in the study because the drugs are extremely expensive, Buffenstein said, estimating patients will receive about $450,000 worth of donated medicines in two years.
Hawaii has an estimated 20,000 Alzheimer's patients, according to the Alzheimer's Association of Hawaii.
For more information, call 585-5406 about the Alzheimer's study, and 585-5408 about the schizophrenia study.