Geneticists to crack bipolar disorder code

Sarah Wiedersehn
(Australian Associated Press)


Scientists are trying to crack the genetic code of bipolar disorder to end the trial and error approach to treatment for many of the 250,000 Australians suffering the complex mental illness.

A study conducted at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) will conduct whole genome sequencing of close to 1200 individuals with bipolar disorder.

They have been recruited from the 45 and Up Study cohort study – the largest ongoing study of healthy ageing in the southern hemisphere.

The research was made possible by $2.46 million in funding announced by the NSW government on Tuesday.

Lead researcher and geneticist Dr Jan Fullerton says the study aimed to identify the molecular pathways that increase the risk of the highly heritable condition.

“We are looking for genes which increase risk of bipolar disorder but also we will be looking at genes that may predict responsiveness to pharmaceutical treatments,” Dr Fullerton said.

Bipolar disorder is most commonly treated with lithium, but this is only effective for 30 per cent of patients, leading to a lengthy “trial and error” approach to find effective medication, says Dr Fullerton.

“This study will potentially provide clues as to which patients will respond to which medications or treatments most effectively, at the moment it is very hit-and-miss as to whether a patient is able to be treated effectively,” Dr Fullerton said.

The researchers will also be looking for “genetic overlaps” for the myriad of medical conditions that are also associated with bipolar disorder.

Research fellow at the Black Dog Institute and psychiatrist Philip Mitchell says people with bipolar have high rates of concurrent anxiety disorders and other physical disorders like cardiovascular disease.

They are also at a greater risk of suicide and substance abuse.

Professor Mitchell, who has researched bipolar for several decades, believes having the genetic profile of bipolar patients could be life-changing.

“It allows us the potential of personalised medicine in people with bipolar,” he said.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.


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