Bipolar disorder is a severe mood disorder that affects more than 5.7 million adult Americans. Because we cannot biopsy the diseased human brain, complex causes that lead to biochemical imbalances in the brain are difficult to study in the patients themselves. We now have the technology to “reprogram” patient skin cells into different types of brain cells and culture them in the lab. These cells are astrocytes; they nourish the neurons of the brain and play a crucial role in maintaining a proper chemical environment. Disruption of normal astrocyte function has been implicated in many neuropsychiatric disorders. The ability to culture astrocytes and other brain cells derived from healthy and affected individuals gives us an opportunity to study the cell biology of bipolar disorder in depth with the goal of improving treatments.
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