SCIENTISTS believe they have made a breakthrough in treating schizophrenia by helping patients train themselves to control verbal hallucinations using an MRI scanner and a computer game.

A pilot by King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) and the University of Roehampton suggests the new technique can help patients who hallucinate but do not respond to medication.

The study, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, involved 12 patients who experienced verbal hallucinations on a daily basis.

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Brain imaging experts targeted a region of the brain that is sensitive to speech and human voices, and is hyperactive in people with schizophrenia.

They designed a “neurofeedback” technique, where patients in a MRI scanner could monitor their own neural activity in the speech sensitive region of the brain.

Neural activity was represented by a computerised space rocket, and patients were told to develop their own strategies to bring it down to earth.

After four visits to the MRI scanner, patients were able to control their brain activity without visual feedback and learn coping strategies for life .

Dr Natasza Orlov, of King’s IoPPN, said: “Our study has shown that people with schizophrenia can learn some sort of mental strategy to help their symptoms - something which several years of medication has not helped with.”