Stem cells have emerged as a groundbreaking avenue of research in understanding and potentially treating bipolar disorder. A significant 2014 study was conducted with stem cells. Published by scientists from the University of Michigan Medical School and supported by the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund, aims to shed light on key questions:
- Firstly, what makes a person bipolar, prone to periods of euphoria and deep depressive lows?
- Secondly, why does bipolar disorder strongly manifest in some families even when a single gene cannot be pinpointed?
- Thirdly, why is it challenging to find new treatments for a condition that affects two hundred million people worldwide?
Stem Cells in Bipolar Disorder
The team utilized skin samples from individuals with bipolar disorder to derive the first lines of stem cells specific to this condition. In an article published in Translational Psychiatry. The researchers detailed how they transformed stem cells into neurons. Similar to those found in the brain, and compared them with cells derived from individuals without bipolar disorder. The comparison revealed highly specific differences in how these neurons behave and communicate, identifying striking variations in how neurons respond to lithium, the most common compound in bipolar disorder treatment. This marks the first time scientists have directly measured differences in the formation and functioning of brain cells between those with and without bipolar disorder.
Stem Cells as a Window into Bipolar Disorder
The team used a type of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), taking small skin cell samples and exposing them to carefully controlled conditions to induce them to become stem cells. These stem cells can transform into any type of cell. The researchers then induced them to become neurons, providing a model to examine how cells behave as they develop into neurons. They observed that cells from individuals with bipolar disorder differ in gene expression, differentiation into neurons, communication, and response to lithium compared to cells from those without the disorder.
Melvin McInnis, co-director of the study, highlighted the potential of testing new medications on these cells to proactively discover treatments rather than stumbling upon them accidentally.
This research could usher in the era of personalized medicine for bipolar disorder. The information gathered may be instrumental in testing new drug candidates on these cells. Detecting potential medications proactively, and advancing treatment into the realm of “personalized medicine.” Researchers are already developing stem cell lines from other participants in the bipolar disorder trial. Although it will take months to derive each line and obtain mature neurons for study.
Explore more about this fascinating topic by reading our article on “Stem Cells and Depression.“