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Research priorities for bipolar disorder

We're bringing together patients, scientists and others to help determine the priorities for research into bipolar disorder. 

Bipolar disorder represents a major unmet health need. Between 1- 3% of the population are affected by the condition, meaning it is relatively common, with high visibility in popular culture too. However there is a lack of clarity about the development and course of the disorder or how to best treat it.

Some of this may be a consequence of the symptoms of the condition being similar and overlapping with other major mental illnesses, such as unipolar depression and psychosis. Another factor has been our inability to find a treatment that is better than lithium, a drug that has been in use for over 50 years but is not favoured by many patients. The lack of effective and acceptable treatment options has important consequences: it is not a coincidence that people with bipolar disorder are among those of highest risk of suicide. 

We're working to chart a new path forward in bipolar research, and are bringing together patients and scientists to map it out together.

Patient priority setting

When developing research priorities it's important that those affected by the condition - including patients, carers, families and friends - are involved and an active voice in the process. 

Which is why we're working with Oxford University Hospitals, the Leeds and York NHS Partnership Foundation Trust and others on a James Lind Alliance Project, to find out patient priorities for bipolar disorder. 

The aims of this are to:

  • identify unanswered questions about bipolar disorder which are important to patients
  • work as partners to prioritise the questions
  • produce a 'top ten' list of jointly agreed priorities as research questions to be presented to researchers and funders

Thousands of people have been consulted as part of the project, and the list of research priorities are due to be published in the autumn. You can find out more on the Oxford University Hospitals website.

The scientific community

In late 2015 we brought together a community of experts from across a range of scientific disciplines, alongside patients and their families, to map out the joint priorities for bipolar disorder research. 

Common themes emerged across discussions throughout the conference:

  • The need to make better use of evidence and treatment options so as to improve care and outcomes.
  • The need to exploit comprehensive data collection and use of datasets and technologies to help gain a better understanding of the disorder and how to best define, diagnose and manage it.
  • The need for more research with high-risk populations, co-morbid conditions and children and young people.
  • A greater focus on international collaborative efforts is required to make more efficient use of scarce resources and help accelerate progress.

Arising from these themes and discussions, the group made the following recommendations:

  1. Develop an international bipolar data science collaborative to inform research and practice
  2. Invest in research targeting children, young people and other specific populations at risk of Bipolar Disorder
  3. Support the practical application of research toward strategies that will improve care for Bipolar Disorder in the near-term

The findings from the discussions are being disseminated with other research funders internationally, and will also inform the future development of our own activity. A full copy of the report from the conference is available below. 

Mapping priorities

Download the 'Research Priorities for Bipolar Disorder' report

With many thanks to the Lewis Family Trust for their invaluable support in making the 2015 bipolar conference possible.

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