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Wpg Free Press: U of M team believes method can quickly, accurately diagnose bipolar disorder, depression

April 4, 2019 — 

As the Winnipeg Free Press reports: 

Instead of taking months or years to get a correct diagnosis, University of Manitoba researchers say they’ve found a way to tell if someone has bipolar disorder or major depression with a painless test that takes less than an hour.

“It’s very hard to tell if a person has bipolar disorder or depression,” said Brian Lithgow, an adjunct biomedical engineering professor who runs a neurodiagnostics lab.

It can take years of observation to get the diagnosis right. Someone with bipolar disorder can have 10 major depressive episodes for every manic event, and go years without having a manic event, he said.

If they’re diagnosed with major depression and are actually bipolar, medication could trigger a manic event and “really cause some damage,” said Lithgow, who leads the diagnostic and neurosignal processing research groups at Winnipeg’s Riverview Health Centre and at Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia.

Lithgow’s team uses electrovestibulography, which involves the subject sitting in a moving hydraulic chair while high-tech earbuds measure impulses from their vestibular system, which includes the parts of the inner ear and brain that help control balance.

He started off researching cochlear implants for people with nerve deafness and then shifted his focus to the vestibular system, looking at the responses of people with Parkinson’s disease before and after taking medication. By accident, his team discovered that the response of someone with Parkinson’s who also had major depression was very different. That led to further research involving patients with major depression, whose responses looked very different than those with bipolar disorder.

“People with (disorders) have different responses to healthy people,” Lithgow said. The years of research led to an article posted in the latest World Journal of Biological Psychiatry.

“What we’d like to do is commercialize this thing, if possible,” Lithgow said, adding that will require more research to back up the findings. “If we can find a local psychiatrist willing to collaborate, we would like to look for 300 volunteers who’ve been diagnosed with major depression or bipolar to take part in another double-blind study,” he said.

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