May 15, 2019

Weizmann Institute of Science Collaboration

Dr. McInnis visits with colleagues at the Weizmann Institute in Israel 

Dr. McInnis (middle) with members of the Alon lab

The many strengths of the Prechter Bipolar Research Program are the connections that we have locally here at the University of Michigan and in the international world of science. Working together is the key to solutions for those with bipolar disorder.

Describing moods and mood changes in bipolar disorder has always been difficult, both for individuals with the disorder and their treatment providers. In April 2019, I met with Professor Uri Alon and his team at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel to develop a joint strategy to tackle this problem.

The Weizmann Institute is an innovative, world-renowned institution focused on advancing science to improve the lives of humans. My collaboration with Dr. Alon was sparked by the publication in December 2017 of the Prechter Program paper outlining our longitudinal study on bipolar disorder. Dr. Alon, a systems biologist and physicist, is interested in the longer-term patterns of human disease and is exploring changes in systems involving stress and stress hormones.  The Alon team is comprised of an eclectic group of scientists, ranging from mathematicians, biologists, to psychologists, all centered around outcomes and modeling of human disease. 

Together, our two labs are dedicated to making sense of the course of bipolar disorder and developing computational models to describe the patterns of this disease. The methods we plan to apply are similar to those used to analyze patterns in the stock market. Is the stock stable and rising? Or is it unstable and falling? There are many trajectories in the market, as there are many patterns of illness that a person with bipolar disorder experiences. This approach is an exciting new way to study and model mood changes in bipolar disorder.

The Prechter Program is working with the Weizmann Institute to expand our research on the long-term variation (months – years) in human experience and biology. We plan to collect samples of hair from our study participants with bipolar disorder. Data on an individual’s exposure to stress over time is reflected in the varying amounts of cortisol along a hair strand. This offers the opportunity to discover how changes in stress relate to the course of bipolar. Can we describe the course of illness in the context of markers of stress and other measures? 

The data gathered from our 14-year long Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Disorder may be key to unlocking the patterns of variation in this disorder. Scientists from the Prechter Program and the Alon lab are excited and energized to begin this collaboration. Together, we plan to meet our goal to improve the lives of those with bipolar disorder.

-written by Melvin McInnis, M.D., Prechter Program Research Director