New stem cell lines help study genetic, biological underpinnings of bipolar disorder

November 16, 2017

The Prechter Bipolar Genetic Repository already houses more than 1,500 genetic samples from people with bipolar disorder and healthy controls from studies at U-M along with collaborating sites: Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Cornell and Penn State. It is the first independently funded bipolar genetics repository in the nation. In addition to sharing the knowledge between the different universities, confidential, coded DNA repository samples and clinical information will be made available to scientists worldwide to accelerate and share clinical breakthroughs in evaluating and treating bipolar disorder.

The Prechter longitudinal study has already collected more than five years' worth of data.

"I'm really proud that over the last 10 years my husband's legacy has grown to include the strides we're making to understand bipolar disorder and find new treatments," Wally Prechter says. "Bipolar is like any other illness - cancer, diabetes, heart disease - and deserves the same urgency."

That lack of effective treatment is a big reason for the high risk of suicide or suicide attempts among people with bipolar disorder, says McInnis. Anywhere from 5 percent to 15 percent of bipolar patients will attempt or commit suicide sometime in their lives.

Depression caused by Heinz Prechter's bipolar disorder affected his whole being, Wally Prechter says.

"He was extremely exuberant and happy, and very, very optimistic, to the point that I thought, 'Wow, I've never met anyone like that.' But when he was depressed it was to the point that he would stay home and just sit in a chair and look out at the river," she says.

The memory of how her brilliant husband was reduced to such a low, unable to tell anyone what he was going through, is part of what continues to drive her today.

U-M Health System CEO and Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, M.D., points to the research as a great example of the strides that can be made when public institutions and private donors collaborate on research that benefits the public.

"The Prechter research shows how we continue to fuel innovation through exciting collaborations that highlight our commitment to bench-to-bedside medical advances," Pescovitz says. "We are very fortunate to have Wally and her family as part of our Michigan family."

There is a continuing need for volunteers for research studies on bipolar and other mental health issues.

Source University of Michigan Health System