Psychiatrist and Universidade de Coimbra researcher Nuno Madeira is the winner of the FLAD Science Award Mental Health 2023, and will receive 300,000 euros to develop a clinical trial of an innovative treatment for cognitive-social symptoms of schizophrenia.

Nuno Madeira, psychiatrist and researcher at the Coimbra Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Translational Research (CIBIT) at Universidade de Coimbra, is the winner of the FLAD Science Award Mental Health 2023, with a project that seeks to test, in a clinical trial, an innovative protocol for the treatment of cognitive-social symptoms of schizophrenia, using transcranial magnetic stimulation.

The FLAD Science Award Mental Health is an unprecedented support for young researchers in Portugal to develop new lines of clinical research in Mental Health, from prevention to treatment and rehabilitation. FLAD’s goal is to contribute to the quality of life of people suffering from mental disorders, at a time when Mental Health needs are even more evident.

The award is an annual initiative that funds young researchers with merit projects in collaboration with research centers in the United States, totaling 300,000 euros over 3 years. The initiative has the recognition of the World Health Organization and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

About the project

Nuno Madeira is a psychiatrist at Centro Hospitalar e Universitário de Coimbra and a professor at Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Coimbra, where he is also a researcher at the Coimbra Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Translational Research (CIBIT). O projecto vencedor – BS2C | Non-invasive Brain Stimulation for Social Cognitive impairment in Schizophrenia – será desenvolvido em parceria com o Biological Affect Modulation Lab da University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine.

Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia affect about 1 in 100 people, and can be extremely disabling, especially when left untreated. Although antipsychotic drugs and other non-pharmacological approaches have evolved greatly in recent decades, difficulties in social cognition-one of the most impaired dimensions in people with schizophrenia-continue to cause great disability, compounded by a lack of specific therapeutic options.

In this project, Nuno Madeira and his team will use a brain neurostimulation technique, transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is increasingly available in Portugal, namely in public hospitals. Based on previous studies, this multidisciplinary research team has developed a novel protocol for the treatment of cognitive-social symptoms of schizophrenia, which will now be tested in a clinical trial.

The goal is to develop an effective therapeutic weapon for social cognitive dysfunction, without the need for hospitalization or other complex procedures, and that may, in the near future, be available to people with schizophrenia, in Portugal and in other countries.

Schizophrenia is considered to be one of the most serious mental illnesses, determining significant personal, family, and social disabilities. In Portugal, according to conservative estimates (2015 data), schizophrenia has an annual cost of between 400 and 500 million euros.

People affected by severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia can have, in addition to the disabilities already mentioned, an average life expectancy that is 10 to 20 years shorter. Many patients, particularly those who respond worst to treatment, see their lives altered in significant ways, affected by consequences such as social isolation, stigma, or unemployment rates between 70% and 90% (2022 data).

About the jury

The evaluation of this award was made by a scientific committee composed of:

  • Catarina Resende de Oliveira, Full Professor at Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Coimbra, former Director of Centro de Neurociências e Biologia Celular (CNC), President of Agência para a Investigação Clínica e Inovação Biomédica (AICIB).
  • Miguel Xavier, Full Professor at Faculdade de Ciências Médicas da Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, National Coordinator for Mental Health Policies and Psychiatrist at Centro Hospitalar de Lisboa Ocidental.
  • Margaret Lanca, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, President of the Massachusetts Psychological Association, and Director of Adult Neuropsychology and Psychological Testing and Training at Cambridge Health Alliance.

This is the third edition of the FLAD Science Award Mental Health. The first two editions were won by Pedro Morgado, psychiatrist and researcher at University of Minho, with an innovative project to improve diagnosis, treatment prediction and treatment efficacy in obsessive-compulsive disorder, and by Manuela Silva, psychiatrist and researcher at Hospital de Santa Maria, with a project of psychosocial intervention for people with severe mental illness in the post-hospitalization period.