What makes a person bipolar, prone to manic highs and deep, depressed lows? Why does bipolar disorder run so strongly in families, even though no single gene is to blame?
Bipolar disorder affects millions of individuals across their lifespan and therefore must be studied longitudinally (over the course of decades). Bipolar disorder is known to run in families, but most genes involved have not yet been identified. Additionally, every individual’s response to the illness, life circumstances, and treatment can vary widely. Studying many individuals over time will allow scientists to better understand how to treat and, eventually, prevent bipolar disorder.
Thus far, 12 years of data from our Longitudinal Study are available for research to the scientific community. The Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Disorder, which is the Prechter Program’s flagship project, has enrolled over 1,200 individuals. From these participants, billions of data points have been generated through biological samples (DNA), neuropsychological testing, clinical interviews, bi-monthly follow-ups, and innovative monitoring using mobile devices.
Participants collaborate with the research team in additional studies that have resulted in the acquisition of several big data sets in cell biology, sleep, nutrition, physiology, and genetics. Participants generously offer their personal time and information in the search for new treatment strategies.
The Microbiome Sub-study
The University of Michigan has identified the study of the human microbiome to be a major priority in the frontier of medical research. Our microbiome is the billions of microorganisms that live in our digestive system. The makeup of our microbiome reflects many things — like the foods we eat, the environment we live in, the drugs we take. It is becoming increasingly clear that our microbiome can influence mood state and potentially risk of psychiatric illness.
Surprisingly, little is known about our microbiome and the influences that it has on our daily lives. Prechter researchers along with the metabolomics center at the University of Michigan are in the midst of a first of its kind study of the microbiome in bipolar disorder. Participants in this study are recruited out of the Prechter Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Disorder. We are investigating the microbiome of bipolar and control participants to examine potential differences associated with several factors, including severity of disease state, medication exposure, early life stress exposure, personality factors, and rapidity of mania/depression cycling. The microbiome may be involved with both the physical and psychological components
of bipolar disease burden.