CWRU faculty joins international research team on bipolar disorder

Virginia Behmer, Staff Reporter

Members of the Case Western Reserve University faculty are involved in an international research project focused on creating an inclusive database of research on bipolar disorder (BD) and looking closely at how it progresses during patients’ lifespans.

BD is a mental health condition characterized by extreme shifts from depressive low-points and manic (hyperactive) high-points. It is also known as manic depression. According to The Daily, the disorder afflicts 4.4 percent of United States adults directly and millions indirectly.

Martha Sajatovic, professor of psychiatry and neurology at the CWRU of Medicine, is one member of the international research team. Researchers from the University of California, the Dutch Association of Mental Health and Addiction Care in Amsterdam and McGill University in Montreal make up the other members.

Working with a $600,000 grant from the International Society for Bipolar Disorders, the three-year project began in November 2018. In total the data comes from 14 sites in eight countries and on five continents.

Benefits of this project are multifaceted: most previous research is from small sample sizes with a narrow demographic representation, and none of the samples were compiled in one place.

“First, we believe that by pulling together smaller datasets from multiple researchers around the world, we will be able to answer questions from this larger pooled dataset that cannot be answered with smaller/isolated research samples,” said Sajatovic. “Additionally, forming this research collaborative is expected to set the stage for larger coordinated studies.”

Moreover, Sajatovic believes that this project will help “raise much-needed awareness on late-life bipolar disorder.” The population is aging, and by 2030 more than 50 percent of patients with BD will be over 60 years old.

“It’s encouraging to me going into clinical psychology that projects like these that focus on mental and behavioral health are being funded, and I hope to see more large scale projects like this moving forward,” said third-year psychology major Thomas Schlechter. “Using samples from other studies provides a great way to address a lot of methodological issues faced by mental health research—specifically small sample sizes and limited about of ethnic and cultural diversity in the samples.”

The work for this effort is occurring on the CWRU campus. According to Sajatovic’s research assistant, Kristin Cassidy, the team is “utilizing resources and working closely with staff from the CWRU UTech Research Computing and Cyberinfrastructure to house and manage the data.”

This project is the first of its kind, and Sajatovic hopes it will set the framework for similar projects with wider scopes. For example, the occurrence of BD in children.

“This database is only focusing on adults as a first step in helping to understand how bipolar disorder may evolve with aging. However, it is also our hope that this project will serve as a model to potentially develop integrated databases that include individuals from childhood to old age,” Sajatovic said.

Schlechter echoed the hope for future studies based off of this project.

“This project would be able to provide an assessment of the validity of the smaller studies by comparing it with other data, as well as potentially seeing how different cultures may have BD present itself slightly differently,” Schlechter said. “I am really excited to see the results of this study as they happen.”