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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 6 | Jun. 3, 2004

New Centre Promises Better Treatments for Depression, Bipolar Disorder

Plans to translate research rapidly into improved care

By Hilary Thomson

People suffering from disabling mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder can expect improved assessments and treatment with the opening of the Mood Disorders Centre of Excellence at UBC Hospital, part of the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI).

"This facility will offer research and patient care with a 'bench to bedside' approach focusing on rapid translation of research into improved care," says Dr. Alison Buchan, associate dean, Research, UBC Faculty of Medicine. "Co-ordinating mood disorder research in B.C. will help us recruit faculty to this outstanding multidisciplinary team," adds Dr. Bernie Bressler VCHRI director.

Directed by Dr. Raymond Lam, a UBC professor of psychiatry and a key investigator with VCHRI, the Mood Disorders Centre has received approximately $4.5 million in new research funding from community support. Its two program streams are the Bipolar Disorder Program and the BC Credit Union Centre for Excellence in Depression Research and Care.

The depression centre is supported by a gift of more than $1 million from B.C. credit unions that will provide for additional researcher positions to expand the reach of the centre. New programs of treatment include ReChORD (Relief of Chronic or Resistant Depression) that uses an integrated and comprehensive approach, including expert medication management, psychotherapy, and occupational therapy.

A key element of the Bipolar Disorder Program is an early mania treatment program. Called Systematic Treatment Optimization Program in Early Mania (STOP-EM), it is made possible through unrestricted funding of $1.5 million from pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

STOP-EM will provide early and accurate identification and diagnosis, using comprehensive clinical assessment as well as neuropsychology and neuroimaging approaches. Treatment will include pharmacological and psychosocial therapies.

"Patients, especially young adults, with bipolar disorder often suffer for years without correct diagnosis or treatment. We want to increase chances of improvement and recovery by diagnosing and treating individuals soon after their first manic episode," says UBC professor of psychiatry Dr. Lakshmi Yatham, a VCHRI researcher and world leader in bipolar treatment, who will oversee the program.

Patients aged 14 and older with a current or recent first manic episode can be referred to the program for assessment, treatment and optional participation in the research component of STOP-EM. Researchers will assess social and intellectual functioning, brain structure and chemistry and provide genetic testing.

AstraZeneca is a leading global pharmaceutical company with an extensive product portfolio spanning six major therapeutic areas: cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, infection, neuroscience, oncology, and respiratory.

The B.C. credit union system is the largest network of financial institutions in the province with 61 credit unions with 340 branches in 125 communities, employing 7,000 people.

VCHRI is a joint venture between UBC and Vancouver Coastal Health that promotes development of new researchers and research activity.


Nearly three million Canadians will experience clinical depression -- an illness that usually develops between the ages of 24 and 44. Symptoms include sleep, appetite and energy problems, social withdrawal and irritability, and despair.

However, four out of five people with depression can be successfully treated within weeks. Depression is a leading cause of disability from work and costs more than $5 billion per year to manage. About 15 per cent of people with severe depression commit suicide.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic-depressive illness, is a severe mood disorder that affects about one million Canadians. Patients with this disorder experience both severe depressions as well as manic episodes (common symptoms include irritability, aggressive behaviour, lack of judgement, impulsivity, decreased sleep and increased energy, and often psychosis), both of which are debilitating. A brain disorder, it typically develops in adolescence or early adulthood. Affecting up to four per cent of adults, bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability worldwide among 15-44-year-olds.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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