According to experts, 44 million Americans are affected by some type of mood disorder each year. The disorders include depression and bipolar disorder and as a whole are one of the most common form of illness.
The disorders are believed to result from a chemical imbalance in the brain with environmental factors often triggering or buttressing outbreaks.
Researchers are now focusing on these neurobiological mechanisms with the initiative the centerpiece of a new Center of Excellence located at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston.
“We need to link those discoveries to a better way to treat the disease. In the new center, we’ll be able to combine high-level care with research,” says Jair Soares, M.D., co-director of the center and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
“All of us, if we don’t have a family member with a mood disorder, we have a friend or co-worker who suffers from one,” said Soares, who is executive director of the UT Harris County Psychiatric Center and chief of psychiatry at LBJ General Hospital and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.
“New research is showing that a mood disorder has nothing to do with will. These conditions are brain diseases.”
“Mood disorders ruin lives; break up families; shorten lives through suicide and medical illnesses. Every phase of life is affected by mood disorders,” said Alan Swann, M.D., professor and co-director of the UT Center on Mood Disorders.
“There’s a tremendous need for this center. We will evaluate people, treat and conduct research in a single place. We will be able to educate our students and residents, our patients and their families, and the general public.”
Giovana Zunta-Soares, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the medical school, said researchers including those at the UT Medical School at Houston are beginning to learn more about the relationship between changes in the brain and mood disorders.
“We know bipolar patients have subtle abnormalities in key brain regions involved in modulation of emotions, but we don’t know why,” Zunta-Soares said.
“We would like to eventually have a way to diagnose the disease physiologically just as we do in other diseases such as high blood pressure, for example.”
The new Center will focus research on area including brain imaging, cognitive neuropsychology, neurophysiology and genetics. Specifically the Center will address:
– A double-blind, placebo-controlled medication trial is studying uridine, a naturally occurring chemical made by the liver that is involved in many of the body’s processes, including the use of energy by cells. Researchers are testing uridine for safety and to assess whether it is beneficial for the depressive symptoms of bipolar disease in adults.
– Researchers will analyze blood levels from the new Serum Markers of Ilness Pathophysiology in Mood Disorders, a repository of samples, in search of biochemical and genetic abnormalities to help understand biological conditions associated with bipolar disorder.
– Anatomical and biochemical measurements of certain brain regions will be taken in an imaging study looking at the differences along the bipolar spectrum, which includes bipolar disorder type I, bipolar disorder type II, cyclothymia and bipolar disorder not otherwise specified.
– Two studies will look at families. The first is enrolling parents diagnosed with bipolar disease and their children age 7 to 17 regardless of whether the children have the disease. The second is recruiting a family member with bipolar disease and a non-affected, first-degree relative (sibling, parent or child).
– Researchers will investigate neurophysiological and neurochemical studies of bipolar disorder and its relationships to impulsivity, personality disorders and substance-use disorders. In addition to mood disorders, the faculty practice at UT Physicians’ clinics of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences treats patients with anxiety disorders, childhood disorders, personality disorders, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia and substance-related disorders.