Bipolar disorder study aims to find better treatment for kids

University researchers are investigating the effectiveness of several therapies for children with bipolar disorder, also known as manic depressive illness.

The study, called TEAM (Treatment of Early Age Mania), builds on previous research that showed bipolar disorder can occur in children as young as 7.

During the manic phase of the illness, children may experience an inflated sense of power and self-esteem and inappropriately behave as if they are in charge.

They may seem extremely happy and silly, but their moods can change rapidly. A decreased need for sleep and excessive chatter are common. Some bipolar children also experience depression.

Diagnosis is difficult because the manic phase can be confused with the more common attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because both involve hyperactivity, irritability and distractibility.

However, researchers developed a diagnostic interview that differentiates bipolar disorder from ADHD and other psychiatric illnesses. Children in the TEAM study will be evaluated using that interview.

Although characteristics of the disorder in children are now clear, there is little data about appropriate treatment.

Despite several effective medications for adults, specific testing in children is needed because they often respond to medications differently.

To investigate the effectiveness of medications for the treatment of childhood bipolar disorder, the National Institute of Mental Health funded the TEAM study — the first and largest federally funded study of its kind.

Barbara Geller, M.D., professor of child psychiatry and a pioneer in the recognition of bipolar disorder in children, is leading the national study.

The School of Medicine’s Early Emotional Development Program is one of five national sites participating in the study. Joan L. Luby, M.D., associate professor of child psychiatry, is principal investigator for the St. Louis site.

The researchers are investigating how well different medications and medication combinations help bipolar children ages 6-15.

The TEAM study is unique because placebos are not given; all children will receive active treatment.

Qualified participants are randomly selected to receive either lithium, a drug commonly prescribed for adults with bipolar disorder; valproate, an anticonvulsant drug that has been related to improvement of manic symptoms in smaller studies; or risperidone, an anti-psychotic medication used in adults with schizophrenia that is also being tested in children with autism.

“There is no proven, effective treatment for children with bipolar disorder,” Luby said. “But we hope that by comparing these drugs and drug combinations, we might find ways to better control this severe illness in affected children.”

In addition to diagnostic evaluations and free study medications, volunteers receive laboratory tests at several intervals during the study.

When the study is completed, volunteers who’ve had good responses from investigational medications may continue taking those drugs.

Volunteers will also be compensated for participating in a follow-up examination six months after completion of the initial study.

For more information, call Samantha Blankenship at 286-2783.