Published: 09-07-2020 09:27 | Updated: 09-09-2020 07:23

Research project within Neuropsychoimmunology receives a research grant from Hjärnfonden

Sophie Erhardt's research group, at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology Karolinska Institutet, has been awarded a research grant of in total SEK 1,200,000 from The Swedish Brain Foundation.

Tell us about the research grant you received from Hjärnfonden?

– In June 2020 we received a two-year grant from Hjärnfonden. We will receive SEK 600,000 per year.

Tell us about the project for which you received the research grant?

– Our "Kynurenic acid hypothesis for schizophrenia" means that central levels of the endogenous glutamate receptor antagonist kynurenic acid (KYNA) are elevated in patients with psychotic disorders. An overproduction of KYNA contributes to the pathophysiology of schizophrenia and causes changes in glutamatergic and dopaminergic neurotransmission which in turn cause psychosis and cognitive problems.

– One reason why too much KYNA is produced in the brain is immune activation. Our project aims at developing a novel drug that will prevent immune-induced synthesis of KYNA, thus counteracting psychotic symptoms and cognitive dysfunction in individuals who produce too much KYNA as a result of immune activation. This is a whole new strategy to treat not only the symptoms, but also the underlying mechanisms. 

Background to the project

– Schizophrenia is a tragic and devastating mental illness that affects about one percent of the population. In Sweden, direct health care costs are estimated at SEK 4 billion per year. The drugs now used provide only symptom relief and are based on principles from the 1960s. They are only partially successful, only in twenty percent of patients the symptoms disappear completely and about 25% do not respond to the medication at all. 

– The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed schizophrenia as one of the top ten causes of disability. The need for new drugs is therefore enormous.