UT Center of Excellence on Mood Disorders combines discovery, patient care

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Jair Soares, M.D.

Jair Soares, M.D.

HOUSTON - (Feb. 3, 2010) - Innovative neuroscience research and expanded clinical care have been launched at the new Center of Excellence on Mood Disorders at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

"New research here is trying to pinpoint the neurobiological mechanisms involved in mood disorders," said Jair Soares, M.D., co-director of the center and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. "We need to link those discoveries to a better way to treat the disease. In the new center, we'll be able to combine high-level care with research."

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 9.5 percent of the United States population age 18 years and older has a mood disorder in a given year. Mood disorders include bipolar disorder and depression.

"All of us, if we don't have a family member with a mood disorder, we have a friend or co-worker who suffers from one," said Soares, who is executive director of the UT Harris County Psychiatric Center and chief of psychiatry at LBJ General Hospital and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. "New research is showing that a mood disorder has nothing to do with will. These conditions are brain diseases."

Alan Swann, M.D.

Alan Swann, M.D.

The new center will be able to link with other strong resources of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, including the Center for Neurobehavioral Research on Addictions and the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Imaging, both at the medical school, as well as The University of Texas School of Public Health, which is based in Houston.

"Mood disorders ruin lives; break up families; shorten lives through suicide and medical illnesses. Every phase of life is affected by mood disorders," said Alan Swann, M.D., professor and co-director of the UT Center on Mood Disorders. "There's a tremendous need for this center. We will evaluate people, treat and conduct research in a single place. We will be able to educate our students and residents, our patients and their families, and the general public." 

Giovana Zunta-Soares, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the medical school, said researchers including those at the UT Medical School at Houston are beginning to learn more about the relationship between changes in the brain and mood disorders.

"We know bipolar patients have subtle abnormalities in key brain regions involved in modulation of emotions, but we don't know why," Zunta-Soares said. "We would like to eventually have a way to diagnose the disease physiologically just as we do in other diseases such as high blood pressure, for example."

Brain imaging, cognitive neuropsychology, neurophysiology and genetics are components of new research at the Center:

  • Adult patients with bipolar disorder are being recruited for an imaging study that will look for changes in the brain that may indicate how mood-stabilizing medications help them.
  • For an imaging study looking at the anatomy and biology of important areas of the developing brain, researchers are seeking children ages 7 to 17 who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder as well as healthy children of the same age.  The children with bipolar disease will be treated with mood-stabilizing medications.
  • A double-blind, placebo-controlled medication trial is studying uridine, a naturally occurring chemical made by the liver that is involved in many of the body's processes, including the use of energy by cells. Researchers are testing uridine for safety and to assess whether it is beneficial for the depressive symptoms of bipolar disease in adults.
  • Researchers will analyze blood levels from the new Serum Markers of Illness Pathophysiology in Mood Disorders, a repository of samples, in search of biochemical and genetic abnormalities to help understand biological conditions associated with bipolar disorder.
  • Anatomical and biochemical measurements of certain brain regions will be taken in an imaging study looking at the differences along the bipolar spectrum, which includes bipolar disorder type I, bipolar disorder type II, cyclothymia and bipolar disorder not otherwise specified.
  • Two studies will look at families. The first is enrolling parents diagnosed with bipolar disease and their children age 7 to 17 regardless of whether the children have the disease. The second is recruiting a family member with bipolar disease and a non-affected, first-degree relative (sibling, parent or child).
  • Researchers will investigate neurophysiological and neurochemical studies of bipolar disorder and its relationships to impulsivity, personality disorders and substance-use disorders.

In addition to mood disorders, the faculty practice at UT Physicians' clinics of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences treats patients with anxiety disorders, childhood disorders, personality disorders, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia and substance-related disorders.

For more information, call (713) 500-2627 or email utmooddisorders@uth.tmc.edu.

Deborah Mann Lake
Media Hotline: 713-500-3030