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 Skip Navigation LinksHome > Newsletter > Winter Edition 2016 > Scientists on the Brink of <br>Improving Bipolar Treatment  
Newsletter Scientists on the Brink of Improving Bipolar Treatment
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New Insights Could Dramatically Enhance Bipolar Treatment


This is what bipolar disorder feels like to those who have it
For the millions of people living with bipolar disorder (BD), one day can be filled with sadness and fatigue, while the next day, there can be galvanic bursts of joy and energy. Yet because of the extreme fluctuations, even these “up” periods (often referred to as mania) can spell serious trouble. The mania often leads to erratic behavior, irrational spending, or a host of other behaviors that BD patients often regret. It’s a life of confusion that is hard to control, and even harder for friends and loved ones to understand.

While lithium remains one of the most popular treatments for BD, nearly half the patients who were prescribed lithium do not respond effectively. However, a promising BSF-funded study may drastically improve that percentage—and make life much more manageable for those facing the challenges of BD.

The Tel Aviv University (TAU) study found that an insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) hormone, known for its pivotal role in tissue growth, is also capable of increasing the lithium sensitivity of blood cells in bipolar disorder patients in whom lithium was originally ineffective.

The research was led by TAU postgraduate student Dr. Elena Milanesi under the guidance of Dr. David Gurwitz and Dr. Noam Shomron. Collaborators included Adva Hadar, a graduate student at TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, along with TAU Professor Haim Werner. The project began as a U.S.-Israel collaboration between scientists at Tel Aviv University, and scientists at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Iowa, and the University of California, San Diego.

The researchers examined the in vitro effects of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) on lithium sensitivity in blood cell lines of both lithium-responsive and non-responsive bipolar patients. They found that when IGF-1 was added to the cultured blood cells, there was increased lithium sensitivity only in the blood cells of those bipolar disorder patients who did not respond to lithium therapy.

Dr. Elena Milanesi is leading a study that may help more patients respond to lithium more effectively
In an interview with American Friends of Tel Aviv University, Dr. Milanesi said that the lack of sufficient IGF-1 hormone activity could be a factor in discovering why so many BD patients do not respond well to lithium.

“This hormone, or drugs mimicking or promoting its action, should be considered for improved treatment of this disorder", says Dr. Milanesi.

The study has been published in the prestigious Journal of Molecular Neuroscience, and the researchers are now open to starting a clinical trial with BD patients.

While other treatments for BD are available, none have proven to be as effective as lithium in long-term clinical studies. There is much hope that if the IGF-1 hormone can significantly improve patient response to lithium, many BD patients will be able to manage their mood swings more effectively, and for longer periods of time.

While this is not a cure for BD, it’s a ray of hope for so many whose mood swings are difficult to live with—and even more difficult to control.
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