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Dr. Phillips' Research Featured

Nearly 6 million Americans have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and yet little is known about how the illness manifests itself in our brains. A new PBS documentary highlights findings by Dr. Mary Phillips and her team in the Department of Psychiatry Mood and Brain Laboratory.

Ride the Tiger: A Guide through the Bipolar Brain is a one-hour documentary that tells the stories of individuals who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  In the film, Dr. Phillips, Director of the Mood and Brain Laboratory and the Clinical and Translational Affective Neuroscience Program, talks about using functional and structural imaging technology to map mania’s risky reward-seeking behavior in the human brain.  

We know that people with bipolar disorder tend to be more risk takers,” said Dr. Phillips. “While they are waiting on the outcome of their behavior, people with bipolar disorder have abnormally increased activity in a particular area of the prefrontal cortex.” 

Through her research, Dr. Phillips seeks to identify biomarkers - or a biological test - to help diagnose bipolar disorder and disorders characterized by risk-taking and emotional dysregulation. Only by identifying such biomarkers can new treatments be developed to help people suffering from these debilitating illnesses.

Dr. Phillips, the Pittsburgh Foundation-Emmerling Endowed Chair in Psychotic Disorders and Professor of Psychiatry and Clinical and Translational Science, is recognized internationally as an expert in the identification of neural correlates that underlie the symptoms of specific abnormalities in emotion processing in people with mood disorders.  She has published over 280 peer-reviewed articles in scientific and medical journals, including a recent article appearing in Molecular Psychiatry that demonstrated that neuroimaging data from teens with behavioral and emotional problems can partly predict how likely the symptoms are to worsen a year later. This study was featured recently by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation on its web site. 

For more information regarding Dr. Phillips’ research and the Mood and Brain Disorders Laboratory, click here.