genetics, medication and bipolarThis month’s edition of Discovery’s Edge, Mayo Clinic’s Online Research Magazine, features an article entitled “The Genomics of Bipolar Disorder.” The article looks at biobanking – a practice in which research centers store a lot of information on thousands of people with certain disorders, in this case bipolar. Mayo Clinic, in conjunction with several other research centers, is collecting blood samples and clinical information from 2,000 patients. This information is stored anonymously, and researchers can use this high volume of data to look at specific questions about bipolar disorder.

The primary focus of this work is related to genomics – looking at genetic associations to bipolar disorder. The work is not just about which genes and genetic variations contribute to causing bipolar disorder, but also examines subtypes of bipolar disorder and patterns of medication response. Partly due to genetic differences, people experience different benefits and side effects to the same medications.

Researchers at Mayo are exploring the various factors, genetic in particular, that may be associated with people’s responses to antidepressants for bipolar depressive episodes: Why some people benefit, others show no change, and some have negative outcomes. Eventually this will be extremely valuable information for doctors to have – at least to know whether people with certain genetic profiles should avoid specific medications.

The Mayo bipolar biobank and research network will also be collecting brain scans from some people as they research the antidepressant issue and other questions about bipolar disorder, and this information could be tied into the data from the biobank.

Biobanking is becoming much more common – institutions all over the world, with a variety of disease and population interests, are getting involved. It’s thought to be one of the best ways to collect the huge amounts of genetic information needed to really get useful information from genetic studies.

As this is new technology and the practices associated with it grow, they’re sure to generate many questions and discussions about ethics and privacy, but hopefully they will also produce prescription guidelines that enable doctors to prescribe medications that are more effective and less likely to result in negative side effects based on each individual’s genetic profile.

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