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August 2007 Issue

UC's Center for Imaging Research (CIR)
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$9 Million Grant Awarded to UC for Bipolar Disorder Research

Published August 2007

UC researchers have been awarded a $9 million, five-year grant to find new ways to improve and personalize treatments for bipolar disorder, and to better understand how to identify this brain disorder earlier so disease progression can be prevented.

Bipolar disorder affects close to 6 million Americans each year and is recognized as one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.

The grant supports the formation of the Bipolar Disorder Imaging and Treatment Research Center (BITREC) at the UC College of Medicine and was awarded by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health.

The causes of bipolar disorder are unclear, researchers say, so determining the best treatment quickly for a given individual remains difficult and is largely based on educated trial-and-error of various medications that have been shown to improve symptoms.

BITREC investigators, led by Stephen Strakowski, MD, professor and interim chair of psychiatry and director of the Center for Imaging Research, will use functional magnetic resonance imaging and magnetic resonance spectroscopy—a technique used to measure the locations and amounts of specific brain chemicals based on their magnetic properties—to study
what bipolar disorder looks like in the brain, particularly in response to different treatments.

“Bipolar disorder is a condition that’s very dynamic,” says Strakowski. “Symptoms are progressive and frequently changing. To us, this suggests there are changes developing in the brain that impact how treatments will work during different times in the illness.”

Strakowski says there are key areas in the brain where changes are occurring. These areas include the prefrontal cortical and subcortical brain regions that form the anterior limbic network, the system primarily responsible for emotional and social behaviors.

He and his team plan to further study these areas by visualizing them in healthy people and in people with bipolar disorder during several different early phases of illness.

They will then view the brain’s physiological response to two mechanistically different, but widely used FDA-approved medications prescribed to treat bipolar disorder. More than 400 people will be recruited for this study.

“We think that by viewing what’s happening in people very early before bipolar disorder has progressed too far, we can really refine our understanding of this disease,” says Strakowski. “We hope to understand how different people respond to different treatments, with the ultimate goal of being able to predict what might work best for each individual.”

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that causes dramatic shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. It can strike at any age, but most commonly develops in adolescence or early adulthood. The disorder is characterized by alternating episodes of mania and depression, often with periods of normal mood in between.

BITREC studies will be conducted in UC’s Center for Imaging Research. Grant partners include Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Indiana University and the University of Iowa.

Coinvestigators from UC include Caleb Adler, MD, Melissa DelBello, MD, Jim Eliassen, PhD, Paul Keck, MD, Richard Komoroski, MD, and Susan McElroy, MD, all of the department of psychiatry, and William Ball, MD, and Jing-Huei Lee, PhD, both from biomedical engineering.

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