Innovative research advances knowledge and treatment of mood disorders

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Never gathered before on such a grand scale, researchers at Sunnybrook & Women’s and University of Toronto have generated a state-of the-art database to provide insight to the basis of mood disorders.

“By mapping long-term variations in mood, we hope to better understand how healthy and bipolar mood differs across the days, months and years of a person’s life, and provide strategies for forecasting episodes of depression or mania,” says Dr. David Kreindler, an investigator of the study, Psychiatrist in the Division of Youth Psychiatry at Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre and Assistant Professor, Mood and Anxiety Program at University of Toronto.

Known as the Wireless Mood Telemetry Project, the pilot ran at Sunnybrook & Women’s from 2001 to 2003. Participants 18 years of age or older were asked to carry a combination handheld computer and cell phone loaded with unique software that activates at specified intervals, presenting a series of mood rating questions. Participants responded on the hand-held, recording data that would be automatically transmitted to a central computer database. This is the first time that wireless technology has been combined with mood monitoring in this way.

The method allowed researchers to gather mood ratings from each participant twice a day for 18 months delivered in real time, while they were living in the community. The resulting 40,000 completed responses will now be used to study and assist in the understanding and treatment of bipolar disorder. “The new database has a ‘permanent shelf life,’ and will be made available to other researchers for study at the innovative Bell University Laboratories (BUL) programme at the University of Toronto,” says Dr. Anthony Levitt, one of the investigators of the study, Chief of the Department of Psychiatry at Sunnybroook & Women’s, and one of Canada’s experts in the areas of depression and bipolar disorder. “This project outlines mood dynamics with unprecedented detail. It will be a key resource for understanding mood change.”

“Using wireless handheld technology to collect data from patients with mood disorders is more advanced and efficient than traditional paper and pencil methods,” says Professor Charles Lumsden, principal investigator of the study and Professor in the Departments of Physics and Medicine at University of Toronto. “It allows participants to easily and accurately record their information; ensures the information is recorded at specific times; and lets the order in which questions are presented change each time, eliminating expectation or order bias. Supplementary questions can be added on occasion, demands on subject time and attention is reduced and quality assurance over data is managed centrally. Since the software is designed to automatically digitize responses directly from the input device, much less work is necessary and transcription errors are eliminated.”

Professor Nicholas Woolridge, an Associate Professor in the Division of Biomedical Communications in the University of Toronto’s Department of Surgery is also a co-investigator of the study.