Maryland to close schizophrenia research unit

The Maryland Department of Health plans to terminate its agreement with the Treatment Research Unit at Spring Grove Hospital Center in a move that some worry could reduce schizophrenia treatment options at the center, The Baltimore Sun reported July 1.

The health department opened the unit in 1989 to provide state-of-the-art clinical care to people with treatment-resistant schizophrenia and research treatments to manage their symptoms. 

That arrangement is now outdated, health department spokesman David McCallister told the Sun. The unit will continue to provide clinical care but will no longer be a specialized research unit.

The decision came months after the department told the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center to temporarily stop enrolling inpatients in studies while it received the center's research protocol. The pause allowed the departed to determine "future steps" for those who arrive at the hospital through a court order.

However, mental health advocates expressed concerns to the Sun that changes could restrict care options for patients and deny them autonomy to make informed decisions about treatment.

In the last three months before the pause, only 17 patients enrolled in the two inpatient studies in the unit. One study looked at the benefits of eating a ketogenic diet for schizophrenia patients. The other is a multisite study exploring the efficacy of clozapine in reducing violent and aggressive behavior in people with schizophrenia.

Recently, the health department told the center that the state is moving forward with only federally funded studies and that it was to stop the ketogenic diet study. The new rule affects only studies with direct patient contact, Mr. McCallister told the Sun.

Between 2017 and 2022, the National Institute of Mental Health funded only one drug trial for schizophrenia and the agency funded 100 fewer research grants for schizophrenia in 2021 compared to 2016, according to a 2023 analysis of the institute's research portfolio.

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