The University of New Mexico’s Health Sciences Center has received a nearly $2.4 million award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to conduct a four-year long bipolar disorder study.

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong mental illness causing sporadic acute periods of depression and manic according to an HSC press release, and currently around six million Americans are suffering from this condition.

Christophe Lambert, the study’s principal investigator and associate professor at the UNM Center for Global Health, said the four-year study will consist of comparing nine different types of prescribed drugs with more than one million patients with bipolar disorder across America.

This will be done in an effort to find a solid basis of evidence for patients and physicians to individually tailor bipolar disorder treatment to improve both health outcomes and quality of life.

“We will be comparing bipolar disorder treatments and outcomes using large electronic databases of more than 1 million patients to derive high quality evidence to inform patient care,” Lambert said. “We will answer comparative safety and effectiveness questions including ones about the best treatments for youth and the elderly, who receive less attention in clinical trials.”

Lambert said the study looks at patients in a real-world setting where patients have to manage not only their bipolar disorder, but also "comorbid diseases" that are more common among this patient population. 

A unique aspect of the project is that they will be organizing focus groups with bipolar disorder patients and their loved ones to elicit questions of high value to them, he said.

PCORI’s mission is to help people make informed healthcare decisions and improve healthcare delivery and outcomes by producing and promoting high-integrity, evidence-based information that comes from research guided by patients, caregivers and the broader healthcare community, according to the PCORI website.

UNM HSC competed for the PCORI award nationally under the “Assessment of Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options (APDTO) – Cycle 2 2015” funding opportunity.

In this submission cycle, PCORI accepted about half of the letters of intent to submit a proposal, and subsequently funded 16 percent of the proposals they received, with two-thirds of the applications being resubmissions, including UNM’s submission. Only five APDTO awards were granted nationally during this funding cycle.

For this study, Lambert has assembled a team of nearly 20 experts in bipolar disorder, neuroscience, statistics, computer science, patient-centered research, leaders in mental health advocacy organizations and, most importantly, patients with bipolar disorder.

Mauricio Tohen, co-investigator on the study and chairman of the UNM Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said the study will focus on the unique New Mexico population, an ethnically diverse population with large proportions of Hispanics and Native Americans.

The study will also add the voices of dozens of patients that they intend to enlist through focus groups both here and with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Montana, New Mexico and Westside Los Angeles, Lambert said.

The scientists will be publishing their findings in peer-reviewed journals and in patient-readable form, in order to ensure the efforts have a better chance at impacting quality of care, he said.

Tohen said he is honored to be part the team assembled by professor Lambert and would feel immensely rewarded if their findings improve the lives of patients suffering from bipolar disorder.