A chance observation has led to a drug normally prescribed to alleviate acne being trialled for the treatment of mental illnesses in the UK.
Minocycline is a cheap antibiotic that could be successful as a future prescription for illnesses that can present psychotic symptoms, including schizophrenia, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists believe that these illnesses may result from inflammatory processes in the brain, and the anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective effects of Minocycline could account for the positive findings.
Details of the trial were presented to the independent Schizophrenia Commission, which was set up by mental health charity, Rethink. The UK trial aims to recruit 175 patients recently diagnosed with schizophrenia. Half of these people will be randomly allocated to take Minocycline with their standard anti-psychotic treatment, while the remainder take a placebo. The trial, which is receiving £1.9m funding from the Medical Research Council, will be supported by brain scans and blood tests to measure inflammatory markers in the blood.
In my view, media coverage of mental health issues and conditions is limited, perhaps due to its perceived “scary” nature. There is little glamour in reading suicide statistics or reported instances of dementia. This type of "accidental" drug finding highlights that there is still much doctors and scientists have to learn about the effects of medication on the mind. In cases of this kind, though, the reports are welcome if they help explain the symptoms and causes of debilitating illnesses that would otherwise run the risk of staying under the radar in terms of both awareness and funding.
Written by Angela Catton