Dr Katrina Green. Photo by Simon Bullard.

Researchers need volunteers to investigate the potential benefits of probiotics

IHMRI researchers are investigating the link between gut bacteria and the brain to find new ways to improve cognitive function for people with schizophrenia.

A pilot study is underway in the Illawarra and researchers need volunteers to take part.

Researchers know that antipsychotic medications often fail to treat the impact of schizophrenia on deficits in cognitive function associated with the illness, impaired decision making and attention span.

IHMRI’s Dr Katrina Green from the University of Wollongong’s School of Medicine says despite their impact, cognitive deficits are largely untreatable for patients.

“Antipsychotic drugs are prescribed to treat schizophrenia but they do not help with improving cognitive function which is impacted by the illness,” said Dr Green.

“We’re trying to find alternative drug treatments that may improve cognition for patients while treating the other symptoms of the disorder,” she added.

Researchers say there’s growing evidence that gut bacteria play an important role in our central nervous system and signal the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.

“Through genome testing we are measuring the gut microbiota of patients in the Illawarra who have recently suffered a psychotic illness which is a period of significant brain dysfunction. We are then investigating relationships between imbalances in the bacterial profile and the participant’s cognitive function,” said Dr Green.

Ethics approval has now been approved for the trial and participants are being sought.

For this study there are two groups needed:

  • Patients currently undergoing treatment in the Wollongong or Shellharbour Hospital Mental Health Inpatients Units.
  • People without a psychiatric illness or history of substance misuse (controls).

“In theory healthy gut bacteria could improve mental health and we want to understand the microbiota imbalances in people with psychosis. This study will provide important data to guide further tests aimed at reducing the cognitive deficits of schizophrenia by restoring microbial populations using probiotics as a new natural therapy,” added Dr Green.

Eligible participants will be asked to undertake learning, memory and concentration tests for brain function.

They will also be asked about their diet and physical health

Faecal tests will also be required to test gut microbiota.

Testing will take approximately 3 hours.

Participants will be provided with a $20 gift card as a token of appreciation.

Clinical trial contact

For more information about this trial, please email Dr Katrina Green or call 02 4252 8506.

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Media contact

Louise Negline, Communications Coordinator

t: 4221 4702

m: 0417 044 867

e: louisenegline@ihmri.org.au

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