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NIH awards St. Jude $8.6M to focus on anticancer agent research in children

March 08, 2016

The challenge has been to identify early those bipolar disorder patients who will benefit from being treated with lithium - about 20 percent of all diagnosed cases, said Kelsoe. The UC San Diego-led study is a step in that direction. The study involves ten research partners, with UC San Diego acting as the coordinating center. The other participating institutions are Indiana University, University of Chicago, University of Iowa, University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins University, University of Michigan, the Translational Genomics Institute in Phoenix, Case Western Reserve University, University of Bergen in Norway, and Dalhouise University in Canada.

Research plans call for diagnosing and treating with lithium a total of 700 patients at the ten sites, following the patients' progress for two years, with a particular emphasis on noting the occurrence of any relapses and the period of time it takes to recover. At the same time, researchers will examine patients' genomes for DNA markers that could ultimately be used to predict how and why some people respond to lithium treatment and others do not.

"If we can identify key genetic markers, then patients can receive the appropriate treatment sooner, and get better faster," said Kelsoe.

Another aspect of the project is to develop a better, deeper understanding of how lithium actually works. "The reality is that we just don't understand a lot of the biology involved," said Kelsoe. "Lithium works, but we don't really know why."

Collaborating with scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Kelsoe and colleagues will study stem cells derived from patients' skin biopsies that have been reprogrammed to become neurons. They will look to see how lithium and other drugs interact with the neurons at a cellular level.

"The discoveries we make could help us improve lithium as an effective drug, or even provide new insights for the development of other drugs and therapies," said Kelsoe.

Source: University of California, San Diego School of Medicine