AJN agency. A simple blood test can identify people with bipolar disorder and predict the effectiveness of lithium, a drug given to patients with this disorder. These results are based on a new study conducted at the University of Haifa and published in the prestigious journal Molecular Psychiatry.
“For the first time, the results of the study allow us to use a blood test to find out in a short time frame of a few days and at a relatively low cost whether a person has bipolar disorder. We can also predict the effectiveness of lithium, a drug given to people with bipolar disorder, and adjust treatment on an individual basis,” said study author Dr. Shani Stern from the University of Haifa.
Bipolar disorder, better known by its old name manic-depressive disorder, is a chronic psychological disorder characterized by acute and recurring mood swings ranging from extreme happiness and sadness to depression. The prevalence of this condition in the adult population worldwide is between 1 and 3 percent, and the average age of onset is 19 years.
Bipolar assessment is currently done by a mental health professional and includes questions to determine if a patient has bipolar disorder and what treatment is best for them. One of the most common treatments is lithium, but only about a third of patients respond to this drug.
Dr. Stern notes that because of the close similarities between manic depression and other disorders such as schizophrenia, there is a risk of misdiagnosis, at least in the early stages. In addition, there is currently no way to know in advance whether lithium will help a particular patient.
The current study was conducted by Dr. Stern and her research team, which included research students Liron Mizrahi and Ashwani Chowdhary from Haifa University’s Sagola Department of Neuroscience, in collaboration with Dalhousie University and the Salk Institute.
The study aimed to explore the possibility of using a blood test to identify a person with bipolar disorder and predict the effectiveness of lithium treatment for that person. The study looked at cells from three different populations: people who did not have bipolar disorder; people with bipolar disorder who respond to lithium treatment; and people with the disorder who do not respond to lithium.
At the first stage of the study, leukocytes isolated from all participants were examined; a cell culture is obtained that can be maintained for a long period by infecting the cells with the EBV virus that causes mononucleosis. In a second step, the researchers extracted RNA from cells to understand which genes are expressed in each population and determine which genes are expressed differently.
The data obtained show that 80% of the differences in gene expression are associated with the expression of immunoglobins, the main components of the immune system. “The most important finding is that people with bipolar disorder were found to have a difference in the level of expression of antibody receptor genes; this may explain the high rate of comorbidities. There is a known correlation between various mental disorders and comorbidities,” said Dr. Stern.
After obtaining the biological data, the researchers used an artificial intelligence-based computational model consisting of neural networks. The researchers also used cells from other labs that ran the same biological processes as in the current study to confirm that the computational model also works for cells taken from multiple labs.
The results of the mathematical model made it possible to predict with more than 90% accuracy whether a person suffers from bipolar disorder and whether he responds to lithium treatment. “This method could allow people suffering from mental disorders to relieve many months of suffering by choosing the right drugs for them,” concluded Dr. Stern.