Neurobiological and treatment studies in mood disorders

The treatments currently available for bipolar disorder and major depression are effective in relieving symptoms in only about 70 per cent of the patients. Furthermore, some patients have difficulty tolerating the side effects of these medications. In my lab, we are using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans to examine the levels of brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine in people with these mood disorders. Serotonin and dopamine control our emotions, sleep, appetite and energy, all of which are altered in patients with mood disorders. We are studying how these brain chemicals are altered and where changes in the brain occur, so we can develop new treatments that target these areas. Our research to date suggests that one type of serotonin receptor may be important in treating depression. In addition, I have set up a Canadian consortium on bipolar disorder (also known as manic depressive illness), which includes experts on bipolar disorder from all major Canadian universities. The consortium has recently received more than $2 million of funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to examine the optimal length of therapy with novel antipsychotics and the effectiveness of psychotherapy and psychoeducation. We will also be pooling resources to examine how people with bipolar disorder respond to existing treatments compared to their outcomes with new treatments. We will be able to gather extensive data from all the sites to assess the effectiveness of different therapies. Given that many patients with bipolar disorder have problems with memory and concentration, we will study whether these symptoms are part of the illness and if early treatment can diminish them. My goal is to discover what brings on these symptoms and develop new treatments that improve patient outcomes and quality of life.