A landmark study published in the Journal Psychological Medicine has found that MRI can correctly distinguish bipolar patients from healthy individuals.  While the use of neuroanatomical data as a diagnostic tool in psychiatry is still in its infancy, this finding points to exciting new developments in improving diagnostic techniques for sufferers of bipolar disorder, and is in line with recent findings from other labs which have also carried out research in this field.  The importance of the research and these early findings should not be underestimated, as bipolar disorder is extremely difficult to diagnose correctly and can take up to10 years using traditional techniques based on long-term clinical assessments.

The study was undertaken by researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London, and the Department of Computer Science at University College, London, with Professor Sophie Frangou, leader of the Psychosis Research Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt Sinai, New York.  The team applied Gaussian analysis to structural magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI) data to assess the effectiveness of pattern recognition as a diagnostic technique for bipolar disorder.  A total of 40 subjects in 2 cohorts, matched for age, sex and IQ with an equal number of healthy controls participated in the study.

The levels of diagnostic accuracy (73% and 72% among the 2 cohorts), as shown by the patterning of Grey Matter and White Matter cells in regions of the brain implicated in bipolar disorder, are comparable to those used in other areas of medical research.  Thus, while the authors point out that MRI data cannot be used in place of rigorous clinical assessment, it is to be hoped that in the future brain imaging can be used in conjunction with traditional methods to improve the diagnosis and health outcomes for sufferers of bipolar disorder.

The illness, which affects people’s ability to regulate their emotions, is a leading cause of disability worldwide and sufferers are further disadvantaged due to the delays in diagnosis and failure to get timely and appropriate treatment. The results of this study, which constitute very early findings in the development of new diagnostic techniques for sufferers of bipolar disorder, are therefore very encouraging.

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