Stem cell studies on people suffering from bipolar disorder could help researchers gain insight into the condition.
A research team used skin from people with bipolar disorder and transformed the stem cells into neurons; they then compared these neurons with those taken from a participant not suffering from bipolar disorder, a University of Michigan Health System news release reported.
The study method helped the researchers gain insight into how these neurons "behaved and communicated with each other," the news release reported. The team found a difference in the way the two groups of neurons responded to lithium, which is a common treatment for bipolar disorder.
The researchers used a type of skin cells called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) for the study, turning them into neurons.
"This gives us a model that we can use to examine how cells behave as they develop into neurons. Already, we see that cells from people with bipolar disorder are different in how often they express certain genes, how they differentiate into neurons, how they communicate, and how they respond to lithium," study co-leader Sue O'Shea, Ph.D., the experienced U-M stem cell specialist , said in the news release.
The researchers hope this finding is only the beginning of the journey to understand bipolar disorder.
"We're very excited about these findings. But we're only just beginning to understand what we can do with these cells to help answer the many unanswered questions in bipolar disorder's origins and treatment," Melvin McInnis, M.D., principal investigator of the Prechter Bipolar Research Fund and its programs, said in the news release. "For instance, we can now envision being able to test new drug candidates in these cells, to screen possible medications proactively instead of having to discover them fortuitously."
The method could help lead to new treatments and even patient-specific therapies tailored to their particular case.