U-M Scientists Part Of $15 Million Initiative To Understand Bipolar Disorder And Schizophrenia


ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Can stem cells help reveal the roots of mental illness, and open the door to better treatment?

A team of University of Michigan scientists who have helped pioneer this approach will now work with researchers around the country, in a $15 million national effort to take the research to a new level.

The U-M Medical School team will play a key role in a new scientific consortium that will develop ways to quickly screen libraries of drugs for potential effectiveness against schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

These systems will be based on stem cells specific to those mental illnesses, including ones first developed five years ago by U-M scientists funded by the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund.

The consortium, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and led by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, includes four academic or nonprofit institutions and two industry partners.

Bipolar disorder affects more than 5 million Americans, and treatments often help only the depressive swings or the opposing manic swings, not both. And though schizophrenia is a devastating disease that affects about 3 million Americans and many more worldwide, scientists still know very little about its underlying causes — which cells in the brain are affected and how — and existing treatments target symptoms only.

With the recent advance of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology, researchers are able to use donated cells, such as skin cells, from a patient and convert them first into stem cells, then into any other cell type, such as neurons. Generating human neurons in a dish that are genetically identical to patients offers researchers a potent tool for studying these diseases and developing much-needed new therapies.

(Read the full news release here)