Jan 12, 2007 4:32 pm US/Central
Study Testing Schizophrenia Treatment For Teens

Clinical Trials Rarely Include Kids Or Adolescents

Mary Ann Childers Reporting

(CBS) CHICAGO A unique study testing a treatment for schizophrenia is underway at a Chicago hospital.

CBS 2 Medical Editor Mary Ann Childers reports the most unusual part of this study is its patients, all between the ages of 13 and 17. Children are generally not included in clinical trials.

This study, at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, is one of the first of its kind, seeking to determine if drugs approved for adults are safe and effective for adolescents.

Laura Miller's illness started when she was 11 years old. Her grades started to slide and she began to withdraw.

"It was devastating, to say the least, to hear that your kid's eating her lunch in the bathroom and possibly talking to herself in school. I thought that can't be right," said Laura's mother, Joan Hinsdale.

Laura was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a brain disorder that occurs mostly in late adolescence.

Symptoms include social withdrawal, disorganized behavior or speech, lack of motivation and apathy. Laura also suffered from hallucinations and delusions. She saw flames, and heard voices telling her she was going to burn.

"While she was sick it was like a scene from Dante's inferno. This child thought she was on fire," said Children's Memorial psychiatrist Kathleen McKenna, M.D.

Despite repeated hospitalizations, Laura showed no improvement.

"I thought she would never get her mind back. I thought she would never be in control of her own thoughts," Hinsdale said.

That's when Laura's parents heard about a clinical trial for teenagers only involving a drug that treats adult schizophrenia. They didn't hesitate.

"The bottom line was Laura was in such bad shape that I would have done anything to make her better," sad Ron Miller, Laura's father.

Dr. McKenna says children have traditionally been left out of clinical trials to protect them. But she believes excluding them is even more dangerous because doctors are left to guess at what medications and dosages to use. There was once a time when women were also exempt from clinical trials.

"Kids are not little adults. Their metabolic systems are different. Their brains are different. The course of the disease can be different," McKenna said.

Nearly one year after entering the trial Laura is doing unbelievably well. She is taking classes, and doing something her parents never thought possible: planning for the future.

"I hardly have any hallucinations usually and don't hear any voices. And I can get to a normal life," Laura said.

"That's a miracle. How could you call it anything else," Hinsdale said of her daughter's improvements.

Laura is hoping to move soon into a transitional living situation. Like most 18-year-olds she is increasingly independent.

To learn more about schizophrenia, click here for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Web site. NAMI has chapters all over the country.