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Updated 10:00 AM August 14, 2006
 

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U-M, Johns Hopkins search together for bipolar gene

For the 5.7 million Americans who have bipolar disorder, the manic highs and depressed lows they experience are difficult enough. But they also face the fact that loved ones, especially their children, are at risk of developing the disease which has its roots in genetic vulnerabilities that run in families.

The search for those genetic underpinnings is accelerating now with a new cooperative effort by scientists at the U-M Depression Center and Johns Hopkins University.

The two universities will combine research efforts on bipolar genetics and unite stockpiles of biological samples from bipolar patients and their families. They will then make the entire collection of samples available as a shared resource to researchers anywhere who are searching for clues to inherited traits of bipolar disorder.

The effort will greatly expand the Prechter Bipolar Genetics Repository, which since 2005 has been used by U-M researchers and colleagues at Stanford and Cornell universities. The U-M Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund, founded by Waltraud "Wally" Prechter, in an ongoing effort to conquer the disease that took her husband's life, funds the Prechter Repository.

The effort aims to improve diagnosis and treatment for bipolar patients and their family members. Research performed using Prechter Repository samples will help scientists understand which genetic variations make people susceptible to developing the disease, and what genetic characteristics tend to correlate with the severity of the disease or response to treatment over time.

In all, 1,500 blood and cell samples from 140 families affected by bipolar disorder will be shipped from the Hopkins campus in Baltimore and stored with hundreds collected in the last year by U-M researchers. The Hopkins repository has been built since the late 1980s, with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Dana Foundation. The U-M team will prepare DNA samples from the Hopkins samples that can be studied at the two institutions, as well as others. U-M researchers also will continue to collect samples from additional patients and relatives.

"Cooperation means acceleration in genetics research, because the more samples we can study from more families, the faster we can get to definitive answers about the genes involved in bipolar," says Dr. Melvin McInnis, the Upjohn Woodworth Professor of Bipolar Disorder and Depression in the U-M Medical School Department of Psychiatry, and director of the depression center's psychiatry programs.

Mrs. Prechter recently visited Johns Hopkins with Dr. McInnis to finalize plans for the combined effort. "I am very excited about the decision of Johns Hopkins to join the Prechter Bipolar Genetics Repository," she says. "I have great hope that, with these four leading universities working on this project, we will find the breakthrough solutions we are seeking for people who suffer from bipolar illness and ultimately find a cure for this insidious condition."

McInnis notes that bipolar genetics research at U-M and other institutions is already bearing fruit. He and his colleagues have used genetic scans to identify a particular region of chromosome 8 that seems to contain areas of major variation between bipolar disorder patients and people without the disease. Now, the combined genetic repository will allow scientists to narrow their search for the genes, and individual nucleotides that lie at the heart of that variation.

The sharing of the Prechter Repository samples with other researchers will be managed by U-M and Hopkins researchers, who will review research proposals. A fee structure, like that set up by other genetic repositories in other diseases, will compensate for preparation of samples and other activity.

For more information on the Prechter Bipolar Genetics Repository, and the need for more patients and families to volunteer samples of their blood and DNA, call 1-877 UM-GENES (877-864-3637), or e-mail bpresearch@umich.edu.

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