Thursday, June 16, 2005

Looking for genetic clues to bipolar disorder

New research presented at the Sixth International Conference on Bipolar Disorder shows genetic linkages associated with mental illness, but finding the genes associated with this sometimes devastating disorder is still a hope not a reality.

I follow some research on the brain, including that related to mental health. Bipolar disorder can be very difficult to manage and sometimes heartbreaking for the person who has this diagnosis.

The National Institutes of Mental Health says bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, causes shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings from overly "high" and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in between. Find more information about bipolar disorder at

You can imagine how tough this cycle could be.

Dr. Marion Leboyer, of the University of Paris Faculty of Medicine, studied 87 bipolar sibling pairs from 70 European families who were participants in the European Collaborative Study on Early Onset Bipolar Affective Disorder and looked at what may be the specific genes that predispose individuals to early onset of this disease.

Finding these genes would help researchers develop more effective treatments or even prevent the disorder from occurring in at-risk individuals.

"Why hasn't a gene for bipolar disorder been identified when clearly the illness affects some families more than others and what is science telling us about who is most vulnerable and how the onset of the illness can be prevented?" says Michael Thase, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in a press statement. "By exploring these genetic connections, we inch closer to surer diagnosis and more rational and effective treatments."

You can find more detailed information on this study at

Let's hope these dedicated researchers can pinpoint the genes, and then new medications or gene therapy can be developed to help this group.

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