Washington: New stem cell research published by scientists from the University of Michigan Medical School, and fueled by the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund, open doors to potential new treatments for bipolar disorder.
The team used skin from people with bipolar disorder to derive the first-ever stem cell lines specific to the condition.
They reported how they transformed the stem cells into neurons, similar to those found in the brain - and compared them to cells derived from people without bipolar disorder.
The comparison revealed very specific differences in how these neurons behave and communicate with each other, and identified striking differences in how the neurons respond to lithium, the most common treatment for bipolar disorder.
It's the first time scientists have directly measured differences in brain cell formation and function between people with bipolar disorder and those without.
The research team, are from the Medical School's Department of Cell and Developmental Biology and Department of Psychiatry, and U-M's Depression Center, used a type of stem cell called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs.
By taking small samples of skin cells and exposing them to carefully controlled conditions, the team coaxed them to turn into stem cells that held the potential to become any type of cell. With further coaxing, the cells became neurons.
Not only could stem cell research help find new treatments, it may also lead to a way to target treatment to each patient based on their specific profile - and avoid the trial-and-error approach to treatment that leaves many patients with uncontrolled symptoms.
The research is published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.