KaSP - our mission

The causes of schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders are largely unknown, and, in the absence of disease biomarkers, diagnoses are primarily based on clinical phenomenology.

The drugs for treating this disease are still far from ideal in terms of efficiency and side effects. Up to 25-30% of the patients are or become treatment-resistant, and out of those who respond, about 50% show disabling functional deficits throughout life, primarily due to negative symptoms and cognitive impairments.

Moreover, despite the use of antipsychotic drugs, approximately 10% of the patients commit suicide, not seldom due to concomitant depression.

New and improved treatment strategies, directed towards pathophysiological mechanisms of the disease, are required to address this significant unmet medical need. Thus, understanding the presently unknown pathophysiology of schizophrenia and discovering biomarkers of the illness are prerequisites for the development of improved treatments and rational drug design.

Given the clinical heterogeneity of schizophrenia, research approaches towards a targeted pharmacological treatment should, therefore, combine biological markers and pharmacogenomics with detailed clinical and neurocognitive assessments of symptoms to delineate subgroups with shared pathophysiology to allow for more precise diagnostic criteria and treatments.

The Karolinska Schizophrenia Project attempts to clarify the role of brain immune mechanisms for the etiology and development of pathophysiology in the disease.

First episode psychosis patients are recruited in close collaboration with several psychiatric clinics in Stockholm. Examinations include clinical ratings, cognitive testing, analyses of biomarkers in blood and cerebrospinal fluid, magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography (PET), and whole genome sequencing.

Abnormalities in these parameters are translated into experimental settings, thereby creating novel animal models of schizophrenia that may reveal hitherto unknown pathophysiological mechanisms and biomarkers as well as novel immune-related targets for drug development.

The main feature is that a demonstration of a contribution of immune reactions to the pathogenesis of psychosis would immediately open up a number of therapeutic options that will be evaluated in clinical trials.

Linda Nilsson