Big Data Research May Lead to Improved Treatments for Bipolar Disorder

New study aims to create evidence-based personalized treatments for patients with bipolar disorder.

Researchers at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center received $2.4 million to analyze the impact of drugs prescribed to patients with bipolar disorder.

The funds will be used to collect and analyze electronic health records (EHRs) of patients with bipolar disorder, according to a press release from the university. They plan to compare 9 common treatments, and the EHRs of more than 1 million patients treated over the last decade.

Outcomes such as hospitalizations, suicide attempts, self-harm, mood episodes, residual symptoms, adverse effects, and all-cause mortality will be analyzed for each treatment.

“There are a lot of gray areas where little is known about the best choice of treatment based on individual characteristics,” said Christophe Lambert, PhD, the study’s principal investigator and an associate professor at the UNM Center for Global Health in the UNM School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine. “It’s a complex disorder.”

Researchers hope that using a big data approach will help improve treatments for these patients, and create more personalized treatments. Since treatment for bipolar disorder is largely a trial-and-error process, having an informative database could potentially prevent many treatment failures and nonadherence, which can be dangerous for these patients, according to the article.

Patients with bipolar disorder oscillate from extreme mania to depression, which adds to treatment nonadherence and can prevent effective management of the disorder.

“Some of the best treatments help keep patients in a stable mood but create a subjective experience of emotional flatness in comparison to their highs,” Dr Lambert said. “On the flipside, with the lows, antidepressants may carry risks with some bipolar disorder patients of inducing mania.”

Untreated bipolar disorder can impact cognitive function, and periods of nonadherence can also lead to treatment resistance. Researchers believe that these are major reasons more personalized treatment approaches would be beneficial for these patients.

Also included in the study are different advocacy groups for the disorder. These organizations will add insights and challenges faced by patients.

Researchers believe their study has the potential to benefit patients with bipolar disorder, while providing effective and safe treatments. The big data approach can lead to evidence-based or personalized medicine for patients with this disorder, according to the study.

“I’ve heard personal stories from parents of children, teenagers and young adults who’ve committed suicide,” Dr Lambert concluded. “There are a lot of questions about how to treat bipolar disorder over the short and long terms so we can reduce this horrible tragedy that happens all too often. If they [physicians] have better evidence they’ll make better decisions.”