Study to pinpoint bipolar disorder risk factors

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Around 500 Australians aged 12 to 30 will be recruited to take part in a new study to know causes of bipolar disorder and related risk factors, to be conducted in collaboration with four major research institutions in the United States – Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the Universities of Michigan, Indiana and Washington.

UNSW and the Black Dog Institute will take part in the largest international study of its type to pinpoint the risk factors associated with bipolar disorder.

Recruitment to the study is scheduled to begin this month.

The study, the most comprehensive of its kind to look at bipolar disorder and its causes, will follow participants who have at least one relative with bipolar disorder but who are non-sufferers of the illness themselves. Researchers will look at all the biological factors that may contribute to the illness, including a patient’s DNA, brain-imaging, psychological testing, clinical evidence and drug use.

Professor Philip Mitchell, from the Black Dog Institute and Head of UNSW’s School of Psychiatry, said one in 50 Australians suffers from bipolar disorder, yet there was still no way of identifying a person in the very early stages or who was at high risk. “Early identification means early treatment and intervention,” he said. “Current practices to identify people with bipolar disorder were extremely poor. It’s like diagnosing people with heart disease when they present with a heart attack. With bipolar disorder, we know that it can be inherited. We know if you have a relative diagnosed with the disorder you are 14 times more likely to be a sufferer.”

“For people with bipolar disorder, initially it will be a matter of getting their kids and siblings assessed,” Professor Mitchell said. “This is potentially only the tip of the iceberg, and the study will also focus on other young people in the target age group as the project gathers momentum.”

The study had the potential to change the way people identified as ?high risk’ are managed and treated for bipolar disorder.

Source: University of New South Wales, Australia

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