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Landmark Study Displays Positives of Imaging Technique in Recognizing Bipolar Disorder

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mri bipolar disorderAccording to experts from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the use of an MRI may just be an efficient and valuable means of diagnosing mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder. In a revolutionary study using sophisticated methods, researchers managed to accurately identify and separate bipolar patients from healthy individuals based on brain scans alone. The data and findings went on to be published in the journal, Psychological Medicine.

As of today, most if not all mental illnesses are diagnosed solely by symptoms, therefore calling out for a much needed revamping of current techniques and implementations of new methods in diagnosing mental illnesses. In bipolar disorder, there may be a postponement in diagnosis because of the complex clinical management of the illness.

For this study Professor of Psychiatry and Chief of the Psychosis Research Program at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, MD Sophia Frangou and MD, of the Kings College London and Janaina Mourao-Miranda, MD, of University College London, Andy Simmons collaborated to determine whether brain imaging could in fact accurately identify patients with bipolar disorder.

Frangou recently joined Mount Sinai as Chief of the Psychosis Research Program in the Division of Psychiatric Genomics in the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai. Known and respected as a top MD on neuroimaging in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Frangou was invited to Mount Sinai to establish a clinical and translational psychosis program.

"Bipolar disorder affects patients' ability to regulate their emotions successfully, which puts them at great disadvantage in their lives. The situation is made worse by unacceptably long delays, sometimes of up to 10 years, in making the correct diagnosis. Bipolar disorder may be easily misdiagnosed for other disorders, such as depression or schizophrenia. This is why bipolar disorder ranks among the top ten disorders causing significant disability worldwide,” said Frangou.

Frangou and her colleagues used MRI to scan the brains of patients who had bipolar disorder and those who didn’t. By using sophisticated computational archetypes, they were successful in distinguishing and dividing patients with bipolar disorder from those who didn’t, achieving a 73 percent precision rate solely using brain imaging scans. The process was then duplicated in another set of patients, again achieving a 72 percent accuracy rate.

"The level of accuracy we achieved is comparable to that of many other tests used in medicine. Additionally, brain scanning is very acceptable to patients as most people consider it a routine diagnostic test,” commented Simmons.

"This approach does not undermine the importance of rigorous clinical assessment and the importance of building relationships with patients but provides biological justification for the type of diagnosis made," added Frangou.  "However, diagnostic imaging for psychiatry is still under investigation and not ready for widespread use. Nonetheless, our results together with those from other labs are a harbinger of a major shift in the way we approach diagnosis in psychiatry."

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