Schizophrenia research could aid COVID-19 drug development.
That's the view of Distinguished Professor Xu-Feng Huang from the University of Wollongong's School of Medicine.
Dist Prof Huang has studied schizophrenia for more than 20 years, including the immunological disparities of people with the disease.
He believes differences in immune systems could help find a drug target for COVID-19.
While the coronavirus has been deadly for people with weak immune systems, Dist Prof. Huang said that an overactive immune response can also be deadly.
"My hypothesis is, if we look at the antibodies they develop once infected with COVID-19, and compare that to another COVID-19 patient group, it could reveal some very important information for the drug that needs to be developed," Prof Huang said.
The Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) researcher said people living with schizophrenia have an abnormal level of immune or cytokine producing cells, which means they often go through life without developing cancer or even the common cold.
However, when threatened with a virus like COVID-19, these immune cells go into overdrive and cause inflammation in the lungs, known as a cytokine storm.
"If we look at schizophrenia patients and their response to COVID-19, it might lead to some clue to a better understanding of the disease and its reaction with the different immune systems," he said.
Prof Huang said that a lot of research has focused on the virus itself, but biological differences between patients could further understanding.
"Scientists know a lot of the biology of COVID-19 now and that's great, but it's very important that we know what type of people are more vulnerable to infection while others are resistant. We need to know what is different with their immune system," he said.
In 2019, Prof Huang received $1.5 million in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to identify the underlying cause of schizophrenia and find better treatments.
"I think I should find a better cure [for schizophrenia]. I have been working so long, and it took me nearly 20 years to get to this level. I believe there is some light at the other side of the tunnel," he said.
"The people living with schizophrenia do not deserve to suffer. We need a cure and we need it urgently."
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