A wearable technology that measures physiological signs is poised to help doctors better understand and treat mental illness such as bipolar disorder.
The National Institutes of Mental Health is funding a five-year study on bipolar disorder, which is being led by William Perry, professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego and investigators Mark Geyer, Martin Paulus, MD, and Arpi Minassian, PhD, also UC San Diego professors of psychiatry.
The study uses a device called the LifeShirt, designed by Ventura, Calif.-based VivoMetrics, Inc., to research movements in subjects with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
"When patients are highly symptomatic, it is sometimes difficult for physicians to diagnose whether an individual is exhibiting signs of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder," said Perry.
LifeShirt provides continuous ambulatory monitoring on pulmonary, cardiac and other physiologic data and correlates them over time.
UC San Diego researchers released a study in 2007 called a "reverse-translational approach," which uses a paradigm originally developed in rodents for human subjects.
In studies researchers found when rodents are given drugs such as amphetamines, or have genetic abnormalities that change brain chemistry, they exhibit distinctive, abnormal movement patterns and difficulties in filtering information. Medications for bipolar disorder normalize these types of behaviors.
In the study, subjects were asked to go into a small room filled with objects and wait unsupervised for 15 minutes before the experiment began - unbeknownst to the subjects, this was the actual experiment.
Patrick Hankey, sales director, VivoMetrics, says the study found "different types of subjects interacted with the objects in very distinctive ways."
The subjects with bipolar disorder interacted with all the objects and moved around the room rapidly, while subjects who had schizophrenia were found to interact much less.
Perry and his colleagues say by studying the brain's screening or filtering mechanisms in manic patients before and after they are treated with medication, they will be able to compare their results to tests done on rodents. Researchers believe mice can be used to discover new and improved drugs by observing how their movement pattern is altered after taking medication. The collective findings might also offer insight into the chemical imbalances and genetic abnormalities that appear to contribute to bipolar disorder.
Hankey says LifeShirt was the enabling technology for this experiment because it replicated what had previously only been done with rodents.
Alex Derchak, principal scientist, VivoMetrics, says although the subject's movements are continuously being monitored, it is not in real-time. He says the company is planning to extend to remote monitoring and that real-time capabilities are in the works.