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A Bipolar Biomarker

Dean MacKinnon, M.D.

Dr. MacKinnon

Holy grail is overworked, the stuff of bad brochures, but applied to bipolar research, the tag seems right. Because that disorder almost certainly rests upon multiple altered genes, as well as environmental cues, creating a laboratory test—a biomarker—that can verify it in patients is indeed holy grail-ish.

And psychiatrist Dean MacKinnon is a seeker.

Recently, MacKinnon devised a prototype test based on the idea that BP stems, in part, from a disorder in emotional learning. Something’s amiss, he believes, in the learning that shapes a person’s appetites and motivates appropriate behavior.

Just as the flaws may cause patients to cycle between having no motivation or too much of it, their underlying biology may also skew a most basic appetite, that for fresh air.

In testing patients’ response to breathing air with slightly elevated carbon dioxide, MacKinnon’s noted they show characteristic differences from people without the disorder.

He’s now at work testing his biomarker in larger groups.

If it holds, the benefits to patient treatment, to the search for therapy and in lessening stigma would be huge.

Click here for Faculty Profile of Dr. MacKinnon