Lecture on bipolar disorder explores links to genetics

Monday, November 2, 2015 - 8:02pm

When Heinz Prechter, founder of the American Sunroof Company, died in 2001 at age 59, his widow created a fund to advance research on mental illness he struggled with: bipolar disorder.

The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund started in 2001 and became associated with the University’s Depression Center in 2004. The fund engages in research on bipolar disorder, specifically through the Prechter Bipolar Genetics Repository, the largest privately-funded bank of patient samples of its kind.

On Monday, the ninth annual Prechter Lecture explored the potential of genetics to inform research on bipolar disorder. Keynote speaker Leroy Hood, president and co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology, a nonprofit biomedical research organization based in Seattle, covered the ways in which researchers can address disease based on genetic information.

“Genetics do not determine your destiny; they determine your potential,” he said.

Leroy said he was a strong advocate for “P4 medicine,” which applies to treatment that is predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory. He said this approach helps result in the earliest and best treatments possible.

He said research has found people can combat their genetic dispositions through wellness, with practices such as eating well and exercising regularly.

Hood also said family genomics, or the study of genetic sequences within a family, have produced interesting correlations between bipolar disorder and certain genetic triggers.

“We can stratify patients in so many new and powerful ways,” he said. “Stratification is really the key to complex diseases. We can bring wellness to those who are at risk to bipolar disease and those who have other genetic predispositions.”

LSA sophomore Maya Eter, a data entry assistant for the Prechter Lab, said she thought the lecture provided the audience with the science behind depression and bipolar disorder.

“It was a lot to take in, but it was really interesting to see how far we’ve come,” Eter said.

Eter said Hood’s view on genetic diagnosis is a developing topic in health care.

“It isn’t a big focus right now, but it should be,” Eter said. “(The Prechter Lab) looks at a lot of things that relate to that disorder, and one of those things is genetics.”

Melvin McInnis, principal investigator of the Prechter Fund, said the study of bipolar disorder is intriguing because the disorder in many ways represents the spectrum of human emotion.

“The study of bipolar disorder is truly the study of humanity, the range of human experience, the depth of the depression, the top of the highs,” he said. “The range of expression, emotion and behavior is the range of human behavior as we know it today.”