August 20, 2007

Neuroimaging: A Tool for Diagnosis and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder

The Clinical Psychiatry News featured an article on "neuroimaging as tool for diagnosis, treatment in sight: identifying bipolar disorder is a priority". Dr. Mary Philips, a professor of psychiatry and director of the functional neuroimaging program, has recently supported that neuroimaging may soon be a diagnostic and treatment tool for mood disorders including bipolar disorder. She discussed this developing technology at the Seventh International Conference on Bipolar Disorder.

fMRI's (functional magnetic resonance imaging) have long been used in research of mental illness, but not as often in clinical or diagnostic situations because its still considered "experimental"--but this may change soon. fMRI's are similar to regular MRI's but they show movement, and activity. This is especially beneficial because they can pinpoint areas of the brain that are over active, under active, or just abnormal in their functioning. They can also measure brain activity during specific tasks, or mood states. Also, fMRIs are non invasive and possess little to no risk to the patient.

Recently, research is suggesting that fMRIs may be able to identify "specific neural biomarkers that may help distinguish patients with bipolar disorder from those with unipolar disorder." They also hope that fMRIs can help guide physicians in picking correct medications to treat different "chemical imbalances", or even predict which "healthy" people are at high risk for developing bipolar disorder.

"I think neuroimaging is a really interesting, promising technique for the future. We've moved beyond blue sky high-level science for its own sake. We're now using neuroimaging to ask and answer real-lifeclinical problems," she said at a press briefing held during the conference.

Bipolar disorder is one of the mental illnesses that is often misdiagnosed for years before the patient is given proper treatment. Prolonging the time before the patient receives proper treatment can make their illness outcome less successful. Meaning the longer one goes un treated, the less likely they are to be responsive to treatments.

"If we can do anything to speed up the process of diagnosis, it would be a good thing," she remarked.

The article contains information about research results that may hold clues to bipolar disorder. Many of the biological markers of bipolar disorder are being researched in hopes that we can diagnose and treat individuals earlier. Although fMRI for clinical psychiatry use is still fairly new, Dr. Philips sees in the near future that brain imaging may be used the same way xrays have been--as a diagnostic tool.

"It's not going to be the only tool we have, but it will be part of a battery of tests, along with blood tests and paper-and-pencil cognitive tests," Dr. Phillips said.

For details on the studies Dr. Philips has been working on, and some of the great information we already have on neuroimaging and bipolar disorder, read the full article. Here is some information on related research that has helped to identify novel pathways and markers for diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Neuroimaging as Tool for Diagnosis, Treatment in Sight:Identifying bipolar disorder is a priority. Clinical Psychiatry News. By: Miriam Tucker


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