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Understanding Bipolar Disorder through Research

  $6,911 raised to date!  Join us in support of bipolar research.    

Suicide in Teens

April 15, 2019

Despite best efforts in public health to reduce youth suicide, rates of teen suicides have increased by 24 percent in the past 20 years. Every year, over 2,000 adolescents die by suicide, making it the second leading cause of death among teens in the United States. For every completed suicide there are 100-200 attempts made by desperate adolescents. Unfortunately, these teens are at an increased risk of attempting suicide again, especially within three months of their first attempt.

Suicidal teens typically feel worthless, guilty, and hopeless, often viewing suicide as way to escape mental pain or a difficult situation. Common risk factors include conflict with peers and family, interpersonal loss or disappointment, academic difficulties, legal problems, and abuse or assault. Most adolescents contemplating suicide display several warning signs, such as making suicidal threats; talking about suicide and death more generally; writing suicide notes to friends and family or posting “goodbye” messages on social media; and researching ways to die. They also tend to withdraw from friends and family; lose interests in school, sports, and other hobbies; engage in self-harming behaviors like cutting; and use drugs or alcohol to numb their feelings. Teens contemplating suicide may stop caring about their appearance and hygiene; appear depressed or irritable; and experience changes in sleep, appetite, and activity level. Parents and teachers who notice these signs and intervene can help prevent a suicide attempt.

Treatments for adolescents experiencing suicidality is promising. Although few psychotherapy studies have demonstrated replicated efficacy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) have demonstrated reductions in suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior in clinical trials. While both therapies strive to improve emotional well-being and daily functioning, CBT focuses on changing maladaptive thoughts and behaviors, whereas DBT combines elements of CBT with techniques for distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindfulness. The combination of CBT and antidepressants can help lead to greater reductions in suicidality than medication alone.

For emergency help, call 911 or the National Suicide Hotline (1-800- 273-8255), go to the nearest emergency room, or seek assistance at:

NeuroPsychiatric Center 1502 Taub Loop, Houston, TX 77030 713-970-7070, or

UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center 2800 S. MacGregor Way Houston, TX 77021 713-741-5000

To find a physician at UTHealth/UT Physicians, please call 1-888-4UT-DOCS.

Ana Ugueto, PhDis an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. She is a child psychologist, who is trained in Cognitive-Behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety, depression, trauma, and behavioral problems in children and adolescents. She currently works in the Child and Adolescent Unit at UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center (HCPC) where she provides psychological consultation services. She regularly conducts group and individual assessments and therapy in an inpatient setting. Ugueto also specializes in disseminating evidence-based treatments (EBTs) in the community.

Researchers have identified cognitive measures as markers of vulnerability to pediatric bipolar disorder!

April 04, 2019

Cognitive impairments are primary hallmarks symptoms of bipolar disorder (BD). Whether these deficits are markers of vulnerability or symptoms of the disease is still unclear. Led by Isabelle Bauer, PhD, this study used a component-wise gradient (CGB) machine learning algorithm to identify cognitive measures that could accurately differentiate pediatric BD, unaffected offspring of BD parents, and healthy controls. Results showed that alterations in processing speed and affective processing are markers of BD in pediatric populations. Read more below.

How genes may lead to psychiatric disorders

March 19, 2019

Psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder, are known to have a high heritability and a strong genetic component. This is evidenced by studies showing a high clustering of these disorders within families, in which first-degree relatives of patients have a significantly higher risk of developing behavioral alterations than the rest of the population. However, differently from single gene diseases (in which the inheritance of a mutated gene from one or two parents is enough to cause the disease in the offspring), complex diseases, such as psychiatric disorders, are not that simple. These disorders are caused by multiple genes interacting not only with each other, but also with one’s lifetime experiences. In other words, a “genes by environment” interaction is normally required to trigger the onset of psychiatric disorders, making them harder to treat and to predict from genetic tests.

How genes can interact with our life experiences is an open question that scientists have been trying to understand for a long time. Different mechanisms have been proposed and tested in various populations, and it is known that the presence of some genetic alterations can make a person more ‘vulnerable’ (or less resilient) to the effects of some stressful situations. In other words, two individuals experiencing similar traumatic events may develop different behavioral outcomes based on their distinct genetic makeup. More recently, the effects of environmental experiences in modulating so-called ‘epigenetic’ mechanisms have been proposed as mediators of these interactions, as well. Epigenetic modifications can induce significant changes in our DNA without changing its sequence. Highly relevant to Psychiatry, these modifications have also been shown to be quite stable (meaning that epigenetic alterations induced during childhood, for instance after an early trauma, may last until adulthood in specific cases).

Interestingly, several recent studies have reported epigenetic alterations in psychiatric patients. Among other areas of investigation, our Department is focused on better understanding the epigenetics of psychiatric disorders by studying blood samples from volunteers and post-mortem brain tissues of deceased patients after consent from the next-of-kin. We hope that our studies will contribute to the identification of innovative biomarkers and clinically-relevant targets for the development of novel treatments.


Gabriel R. Fries, PhD, is Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UTHealth and a translational researcher in the field of biological psychiatry. His research focuses on the epigenetic basis of mood disorders, with a particular interest in bipolar disorder, suicide, and molecular mechanisms of stress. Dr. Fries’ studies use basic science and investigation of cells, (epi)genomes and clinical datasets to better understand disease mechanisms and transmission, with the ultimate goal of designing novel medications and improving the lives of patients.

Scientists discover changes in the brain’s cellular powerhouses of bipolar disorder patients

January 20, 2019

Led by João Luciano de Quevedo, MD, Ph.D., and Giselli Scaini, Ph.D., scientists in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences discover changes in the cellular powerhouses of bipolar disorder patients. Glitches in the structures that provide power to cells may contribute to the mood swings experienced by the nearly 6 million American adults with bipolar disorder, report scientists from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. In this study, researchers compared the mitochondria of 25 healthy subjects to 31 with bipolar disorder. They found a link between the severity of bipolar disorder and issues with the mitochondria function. When the severity increased, the number of mitochondria problems rose as well. While conducting their study, the researchers identified factors contributing to the breakdown of the mitochondria. These findings suggest that alterations in the mitochondrial network may play a role in producing psychiatric symptoms and the decline in functional status. Studies like this are relevant because this information could be used to help develop new treatments for this disorder.

Bipolar Research Project Spotlight

December 14, 2018

Christian P. Zeni, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, researches risk factors and characteristics of children who have parents with bipolar disorder. Dr. Zeni talks about looking into clinical characteristics that can tell us which children can develop bipolar disorder, or not, later in life. #ManyFacesofUTHealth #BehavioralHealth

Giving thanks by giving back

November 27, 2018

In this season of giving, please consider making a donation in support of bipolar disorder research as part of the #GivingTuesday movement - a national celebration of giving.


Be a part of something greater on this #GivingTuesday and help us to continue developing research that allows us to shine a light and strengthen the overall understanding of Bipolar Disorder, a commonly misunderstood condition.


Your gift will make an impact!



Together, we can make this possible!

November 17, 2018

Thank you for being a part of our incredible journey to bring Understanding Bipolar Disorder through Research project to life. We are excited to extend the campaign as we continue to raise funds for this meaningful cause throughout the year.


With your support we will be able to provide more studies that could clarify the relationship between biomarkers and brain alterations at different phases of the disease, providing knowledge of why some patients will develop a more severe and debilitating course and others do not.


Please continue to share our mission with family, friends and those in our community.

We are grateful for your support! Thank you!

Researchers identify that children and adolescents with BD had smaller volumes in specific parts of the brain’s hippocampus

November 07, 2018

In line with the memory deficits observed in BD patients, hippocampal volume is heavily associated with several mood disorders and has been reported as a potential metric to diagnose and track progression of BD.

To investigate subfield volumes in the pediatric population, researchers at the UTHealth Center of Excellence on Mood Disorders acquired magnetic resonance imaging scans of 141 children and adolescents with bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder and healthy controls. Pediatric patients with bipolar disorder were found to have significantly smaller volumes in certain subfields of the hippocampus compared to healthy individuals, according to the study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. Results indicated deficits in the cornu ammonis (CA1 and CA4) and right subiculum, as well as the bilateral ganule cell layer, molecular layer and hippocampal tails.

Overall, the findings from this cross-sectional study provide evidence for specific hippocampal subfield volume differences in children and adolescents with BD compared to healthy controls, suggesting impaired neurogenesis and neural connectivity as well as progressive reductions with increased illness duration.

There is a lot more to be done! To help elucidate a causal relationship between illness duration and hippocampal subfield volumes, longitudinal studies must be conducted. Our ultimate goal is to find ways to prevent the onset of illness in these children and adolescents, and your help will help get there faster.

Researchers pinpoint area of brain linked to bipolar disorder​

October 31, 2018

A volume decrease in specific parts of the brain’s hippocampus – long identified as a hub of mood and memory processing – was linked to bipolar disorder in a study led by our research group. The research was published in Molecular Psychiatry.

Our research team used a combination of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a state-of-the-art segmentation approach to discover differences in the volumes of subfields of the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped region in the brain. Subjects with bipolar disorder were compared to healthy subjects and subjects with major depressive disorder.

We found that subjects with bipolar disorder had reduced volumes in subfield 4 of the cornu ammonis (CA), two cellular layers and the tail portion of hippocampus. The reduction was more severe in patients with bipolar I disorder than other mood disorders investigated.

Further, in patients with bipolar I disorder, the volumes of certain areas such as the right CA1 decreased as the illness duration increased. Volumes of other CA areas and hippocampal tail were more reduced in subjects who had more manic episodes.

In conclusion, these results indicated that among the mood disorders the hippocampal subfields were more affected in BD-I compared with BD-II and MDD, and manic episodes had focused progressive effect on the CA2/3 and CA4 and hippocampal tail.


Please continue to share our mission with family, friends and those in our community.

We are grateful for your support! Thank you!




So excited to fill you in!

October 25, 2018

Thanks so much for supporting our campaign! You helped us raise 3,560.00 in 23 days! Your donation helped us reach our first key milestone in this campaign.


There are currently 22 days left in campaign and we still need to raise $21,440 of $25,000 that will allow us to study the relationship between biomarkers and alterations in the central nervous system in Bipolar Disorder patients.


Please remember that you can make a difference by sharing this important research with others. You will find buttons on our homepage that allows you to quickly and easily share to Facebook and Twitter. Together as a team, our efforts can help advance our understanding of bipolar disorder and improve the lives of patients.


Thank you for everything!

Impacting more lives with your help

October 18, 2018

According to our previous study published in Translational Psychiatry, a Nature Publishing Group journal, bipolar disorder may involve accelerated epigenetic aging, which could explain why persons with the disorder are more likely to have – and die from – age-related diseases.  

While chronological age is measured in the amount of time a person has been alive, ‘epigenetic age’ measures molecular markers of chemical modifications to DNA. In this study we aimed to understand the biology of what is driving the accelerated aging in BD patients.

Using blood samples, our researchers compared 22 patients with bipolar disorder, 16 siblings of bipolar patients, and 20 healthy controls. Our results found that while older bipolar disorder patients had significantly accelerated epigenetic aging compared to controls, no difference was found in younger patients.

In addition, we also reported that patients present higher levels of mitochondrial DNA copy number, another marker of aging, and that this significantly correlated with the accelerated epigenetic aging. We believe that a difference was not detected in younger patients because they have not had as much exposure to stressful events, and this gave us a hint that the cumulative chronic exposure to stress would relate to accelerated aging.

Studies like this are important because they inform of the neurobiological basis of bipolar disorder and can provide targets for the development of novel and more efficacious treatments.

Thank you! We could not be doing this without you.

October 15, 2018

Despite advances in treatment options, many patients and families continue to struggle with the reality that even medications, short-term psychotherapies and inpatient treatments have not been enough to return some patients to full functioning. Our research aims to better understand bipolar disorder in order to improve the lives of patients. 


We are 14 days into the campaign, and we are already at 11% of our $25,000 goal!  Your support has been truly amazing!

Please continue to share our mission with family, friends and those in our community.


We are grateful for your support! Thank you!

Today is World Mental Health Day!

October 10, 2018

Today is a day dedicated to global mental health education, and it's time to look at mental illness from a different perspective – a positive one!  

Let’s raise awareness of mental illness. Each of us can make a contribution to ensure that people dealing with problems concerning mental health can live better lives with dignity and respect.  

Your support has the opportunity to touch countless lives as we strive to bring relief to patients with Bipolar Disorder and their families. Please take a moment to watch the following video about the research we undertake here, and help us spread the word by sharing our campaign with family and friends!

Let’s keep going!

October 09, 2018

Hey everybody!


Thanks for all of your support so far for this project! We are so grateful to everyone who has funded, shared and gotten involved.


We want to keep you posted on what we have accomplished so far:

We raised $2,345.00 since the campaign was launched!


There are 38 days left for this campaign and we still need to raise $22,655 of $25,000. Any amount will help support research on the mechanisms of bipolar disorder, leading to new biological targets for the development of innovative treatment.


Please also help us by sharing this important research on bipolar disorder with others. You will find buttons on our homepage that allows you to quickly and easily share to Facebook and Twitter. The more people learn about this important research, the more impact we can have.


Let’s keep going!


Thank you! We could not be doing this without you.

New Research Attempts to Explain Genetic Bipolar Disorder Connection

October 05, 2018

Thanks to everyone’s generous support! Here is one of the studies that we have done in our research program. Your kind help will allow us to develop more studies like this!


Genetic alterations that can be modulated by stress have been identified in children at high risk for bipolar disorder, according to our previous study published in Translational Psychiatry, a Nature Publishing Group journal.


Our research group analyzed peripheral blood mononuclear cells from a total of 18 children and adolescents in three matched groups: bipolar patients, unaffected offspring of bipolar parents and children of parents with no history of psychiatric disorders.

We have known that children of patients with bipolar disorder have a higher risk of developing the illness but the biological mechanisms are largely unknown, and by analyzing the blood of children of controls and comparing it to children of bipolar patients, we identified several genes or markers that can explain the increased risk. Moreover, the analysis revealed that, compared to children in the control group, bipolar patients and unaffected offspring of bipolar parents had genetic alterations that can influence the response to stress.


We know from clinical studies of behavior and the environment that when children are chronically exposed to stressors, they are at a higher risk of developing bipolar disorder. Bipolar parents may struggle because of their disease, leading to higher environmental stress. Their children, because of the genetic markers they have, could be more vulnerable to stress.


There is a lot more to be done! Our ultimate goal is to find ways to prevent the onset of illness in these children and adolescents, and your help will help get there faster.


Please continue to share our mission with family, friends and those in our community.

Thank you!

Our campaign is live!

October 01, 2018

We are excited to announce the launch of our campaign in support of bipolar disorder research. Our research is conducted at the UTHealth Center for Excellence on Mood Disorders, which is comprised of an active research team specializing in clinical neurosciences, as well as clinical psychopharmacology and interventions research. Led by our director, Jair C. Soares, M.D., Ph.D., professor and Pat R. Rutherford Jr. Chair in Psychiatry, our team has been studying bipolar disorder for a combined 25 of years. Our work has resulted in several groundbreaking findings that show exciting promise for future clinical applications.


Your generous gift will enable us to continue and increase the impact of our research, providing hope for patients, their families and our communities. A contribution in any amount makes a difference. 


Please also remember to share our mission with family, friends and those in our community. Your support and involvement are greatly appreciated!