World Bipolar Day: Identifying responders to lithium therapy will aid recovery of bipolar disorder patients

World Bipolar Day (WBD) is observed on March 30, 2017, every year to educate people about bipolar disorder (BD) and the need to be more sensitive toward those suffering from it. Noted Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Willem van Gogh is believed to have manifested symptoms of BD and was allegedly diagnosed with the same after his death. As Van Gogh was born on this day, it has been marked to commemorate BD to ensure greater awareness about the disorder.

Patients suffering from this disorder exhibit tremendous shifts in energy levels, mood swings and behavioral traits marked by extreme highs and lows in activity levels. Doctors usually prescribe mood-stabilizing drugs to their bipolar patients but most prefer to recommend lithium believing it to be one of the most effective therapies to treat the disorder.

Though it is advised as the first line of treatment for bipolar patients, many prescribed lithium do not respond to the treatment. This has made it difficult for doctors to identify the kind of patients who would respond to this nature of treatment. Clinicians stress that post diagnosis, it can take up to a year to recognize patients who would respond to the lithium-treatment process.

Examining which bipolar patients would respond to lithium

Some researchers from the Salk Institute suggested a way that would help doctors identify responders to lithium. The researchers in their study, published online in the journal Molecular Psychiatry wrote that their findings would be helpful for not only those who respond to lithium but also those who would not.

Back in 2015, the researchers unearthed how the brain cells of bipolar patients exhibited more sensitivity to the stimuli compared to others. Since then, the researchers were able to identify sensitivity in more detailed form and ascertain clear patterns in the neurons of BD patients, thus allowing them to foresee and distinguish between responders and non-responders.

As opposed to earlier investigations using skin cells of the bipolar patients, the researchers reprogrammed immune cells from six new patients afflicted with BD, some of whom were known to have responded to lithium. Though the levels of electrical impulses and spontaneity in activity were the same in both responders and non-responders, assessment of the electrophysiological properties helped the researchers realize what differentiated the people grouped on the basis of their responses.

Evaluating accuracy

To gauge if the differences could be predicted, the group of researchers used a computer program to recognize the distinctions between the profiles of responders and non-responders by making use of the firing patterns of 450 neurons over six separate training phases.

The system was able to distinguish between responders and non-responders with 92 percent accuracy.

Road to recovery

The findings are significant as bipolar patients are at an increased risk of committing suicide. According to figures by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 2.6 percent adults in the U.S. are afflicted with BD.

If you or someone you know is battling with any kind of mental disorder including BD, it is important to seek expert advice from trained professionals and certified centers. 24/7 Mental Health Helpline can provide details of some of the best mental health counseling programs aimed at sustained recovery. You can also call our 24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online with our experts who can guide you about the various residential mental health facilities in your vicinity.