Psychiatric researchers from The Zucker Hillside Hospital campus of The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research have announced the launch of a collaborative research project spearheaded by James Watson, PhD, the co-discoverer of the DNA double helix, along with a team of researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), to identify key genetic underpinnings of Bipolar Disorder. The study is expected to last two to three years, and will focus on Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder (also called Pediatric Bipolar Disorder), involving children with the disorder as well as their parents.

Lead investigator for the Feinstein Institute, Anil Malhotra, MD, said, 'For complex illnesses like Bipolar Disorder that vary dramatically in symptoms and severity among affected individuals, especially children and adolescents, identifying genetic underpinnings is very difficult.' He also said that it is critical to 'accelerating and confirming a bipolar diagnosis and developing more rational and effective treatments,' and that by collaborating with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), it would help make this a reality.

More than 2.3 million American adults are diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and research suggests that at least a quarter of a million children and adolescents are also affected by Bipolar Disorder.

Dr. Watson said, 'The clinical and scientific expertise of the physician-scientists at The Feinstein Institute combined with CSHL's breakthrough genetics research is a perfect match. I expect this collaboration to contribute a great deal to our understanding of the genes involved in Bipolar Disorder and to the diagnosis and treatment of this illness.'

Bipolar Disorder usually develops in the teens or early twenties, but it can also affect children. The diagnosis of Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder is tough to get, though, because some of the symptoms mimic emotions and behaviors that are initially thought to be typical of children. However, unlike normal mood changes, Bipolar Disorder significantly impairs functioning with peers in school, and with family at home. The diagnosis is also hampered by its symptoms often being confused with other childhood-onset mental disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Children and adolescents who were diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder between 7- and 18-years-old, and who have two living parents, will be invited to participate in the study. The researchers will analyze DNA from blood samples of the children and from both parents. The participants will also undergo cognitive and behavioral tests and brain MRIs. The plan is to enroll 1,500 participants in the study -- 500 children and 1,000 parents.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Bipolar Disorder that begins in childhood or early adolescence may be a different, possibly more severe, form of the illness than older adolescent- and adult-onset Bipolar Disorder.

Using novel (new, unique) genetic technologies, this research team hopes to identify genes for the first time that influence the risk of developing Bipolar Disorder at an early age. Such knowledge could help researchers develop better treatments for Bipolar Disorder and, possibly, even preventative strategies for the disorder.