September 7, 2016

New Richard Tam Foundation gift supports bipolar disorder researchers at the University of Michigan

A Richard Tam Foundation gift of $906,000 to the bipolar research program at the University of Michigan Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg and Family Depression Center will accelerate scientists' efforts to combat bipolar disorder and provide hope to the many people whose lives are affected by it. This gift will provide crucial funding to support the research team's efforts to turn scientific advances in the lab into personalized treatments for those who suffer from this illness. Other research is also underway to help prevent recurrences to enable patients to live happier, healthier lives.

Bipolar disorder impacts millions of people across the globe and is found among all races, cultures and economic classes. According to the World Health Organization, bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability in the world. It is equally prevalent in men and women. In the U.S. alone, nearly six million adults suffer from bipolar disorder, and one in five of them will die from suicide. Yet, despite its prevalence and ravaging consequences, bipolar research is significantly underfunded and the disease remains largely misunderstood.

"The Richard Tam Foundation is a major partner in several of our research projects," says Melvin McInnis, M.D., the Thomas B. and Nancy Upjohn Woodworth Professor of Bipolar Disorder and Depression at the U-M Medical School, and principal investigator of the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund. "The Foundation provides key funding that accelerates research progress. They understand that, as Edison once said, breakthroughs are 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration." 

The pluripotent stem cell core team. Front row left to right: Melvin McInnis, M.D.; Judith Tam; K. Sue O'Shea, Ph.D.

Since 2014, the Richard Tam Foundation has given $2.2 million to bipolar research at U-M. Richard Tam's daughter, Judith, says:

"I have seen how bipolar illness impacts those who suffer and those who love them. I believe that we are now on the cusp of important new discoveries. I am thrilled to support the effort to conquer this cruel disease that harms the lives of so many people in the U.S. and around the world."

- Judith Tam

In collaboration with the Prechter Bipolar Research Fund, the Foundation is supporting researchers in using creative new approaches, including induced pluripotent stem cell lines. "The goal is to develop a cellular model to identify differences between neuronal and glial cells from bipolar patients and controls. The long term goal of this work is to develop personalized treatments for patients," says K. Sue O'Shea, Ph.D., the Crosby-Kahn Collegiate Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, and director of the University of Michigan Center for Pluripotent Stem Cell Research.

The Tam Foundation is also supporting research for those with developmental disabilities, bipolar disorder and catatonia. Dr. McInnis has tapped the insights of Neera Ghaziuddin, M.D., in the catatonia project, to identify families that have individuals with bipolar disorder, developmental disabilities and autism. "The Richard Tam Foundation support enables us to study and better understand the neurochemical mechanisms underlying catatonia. Catatonia, a diagnosis which is often overlooked, occurs in approximately 1 in 6 individuals with autism and may go unrecognized for months or years. This often results in treatment which is ineffective or even harmful in its long-term consequences. Understanding the neurochemical basis of this disorder will help us to develop more effective management of this disorder and consequently to improve the lives of the individuals who suffer from these illnesses," says Dr. Ghaziuddin. 

The bipolar research program at U-M is one of the largest and preeminent research efforts in bipolar disorder in the country. Its flagship study, the Prechter Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Disorder, is in its tenth year of follow-up and has enrolled 1,200 research participants. Through its longitudinal course of study, and its ability to collect thousands of data points on its dedicated research participants, this research program is in the vanguard of major bipolar research breakthroughs.