Bipolar disorder, one of the illnesses that will be studied and treated at the new Mood Disorders Centre of Excellence

Imagine suffering frequent, extreme and disabling mood swings that won’t go away despite years of different treatments and diagnoses.

This is a common scenario for people with bipolar disorder, one of the illnesses that will be studied and treated at the new Mood Disorders Centre of Excellence at UBC Hospital, part of the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI).

“The facility will offer research and patient care with a ‘bench to bedside’ approach, focusing on rapid translation of research into improved care,” says Dr. Alison Buchan, associate dean, Research, UBC Faculty of Medicine.

“Co-ordinating mood disorder research in B.C. will help us recruit faculty to this outstanding multidisciplinary team,” adds Dr. Bernie Bressler, VCHRI director.

Directed by Dr. Raymond Lam, a UBC professor of psychiatry and a key investigator with VCHRI, the Mood Disorders Centre has received approximately $4.5 million in new research funding from community support. Its two program streams -- the best integrated clinical research programs of their kind in Canada -- are the Bipolar Disorder Program and the BC Credit Union Centre for Excellence in Depression Research and Care.

The depression centre is supported by a gift of more than $1 million to VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation from BC Credit Unions that will provide for additional researcher positions to expand the reach of the centre. New programs of treatment include ReChORD (Relief of Chronic or Resistant Depression) that uses an integrated and comprehensive approach, including expert medication management, psychotherapy, and occupational therapy.

“Credit Unions have a strong history of community involvement and forward-looking giving. As we began to truly understand the devastation of the disease of depression, we felt we had to become involved,” says Wayne Nygren, BC Credit Union president and CEO. “It is our hope and desire that the leading-edge research that will be conducted at the Centre will offer enhanced treatments for individuals and families coping with depression.”

A key element of the Bipolar Disorder Program is an early mania treatment program that is the most comprehensive in the world. Called Systematic Treatment Optimization Program in Early Mania (STOP-EM), it is made possible through unrestricted funding of $1.5 million from pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca Canada Inc.

“STOP-EM is an innovative program that will help persons with bipolar disorder cope with their condition early on,” says Karen Burke, vice-president, medical affairs, AstraZeneca Canada Inc. “We're proud to be involved in an initiative that will be so beneficial to patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals.”

STOP-EM will provide early and accurate identification and diagnosis, using comprehensive clinical assessment as well as neuropsychology and neuroimaging approaches. Treatment will include pharmacological and psychosocial therapies.

“Patients, especially young adults, with bipolar disorder often suffer for years without correct diagnosis or treatment. We want to increase chances of improvement and recovery by diagnosing and treating individuals soon after their first manic episode,” says UBC professor of psychiatry Dr. Lakshmi Yatham, a VCHRI researcher and world leader in bipolar treatment who will oversee the program.

Patients aged 14 and older with a current or recent first manic episode can be referred to the program for assessment, treatment and optional participation in the research component of STOP-EM. Researchers will assess social and intellectual functioning, brain structure and chemistry and provide genetic testing.

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