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Bipolar Research Matters

A clock and people depicting circadian rhythms

Bipolar Edinburgh April: HELIOS-BD research study update

Written by Dr Amber Roguski, PhD & Dr Nicole Needham, MRCPsych

In January 2024 we attended the Bipolar Edinburgh meeting to talk about the science behind the HELIOS-BD research project ( and to invite members to participate in the study. We were very grateful to be welcomed by the group, and had some really interesting discussions about how light levels and different seasons affect people with bipolar.

Since then, we have been busy recruiting participants to the study and starting data collection.

We are aiming to recruit 180 people to the study – 60 people with bipolar currently taking lithium, 60 people with bipolar not currently taking lithium, and 60 people without bipolar.

We officially launched the study in January 2024, and to date we have recruited:

·      9 people with bipolar taking lithium

·      13 people with bipolar not taking lithium

·      10 people without bipolar

This is 32 (17%) of our target of 180 participants, which is really incredible progress. We have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest in the study, a significant proportion of which has come from Bipolar Edinburgh members. We are incredibly grateful to every person who has read the information and considered participating. Taking part in research isn’t for everyone, and the HELIOS-BD study is a big commitment! We have really enjoyed chatting with people about the study, whether or not they have taken part, and it is a highlight of our days.

Beyond recruitment, working on the study has been incredibly interesting, as well as a big learning curve! One of the most complicated parts of the study are the overnight stays – where participants spend 2 nights at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and have regular blood samples taken to measure levels of the hormone melatonin (which helps regulate the body clock and sleep-wake cycles). On the second night, participants get woken up in the night and spend 30 minutes sat in front of a bright light. This is so we can see how the light affects melatonin levels, and whether people with bipolar are more sensitive to light. During these visits, participants are looked after by very experienced research nurses who perform all the research tasks.

These overnight stays are usually the part of the study that people are most unsure about, so we have been working very closely with the nursing staff and study participants to ensure the stays are as comfortable as possible. So far, 10 people have completed the overnight stays and only one person was unable to complete the light exposure due to a mild side effect.  We have had very positive feedback about the nursing staff, specifically their kindness and ensuring participants understand what to expect. Some people even said they slept well!

We are also performing scans of the retina, which provide detailed images of the back of the eye. 25 people have completed their first scan, which is a great achievement. We want to find out if there are differences in these images in people with bipolar disorder compared to those without bipolar disorder, and if this could account for any changes in sensitivity to light.  This aspect of the study has also been going well, and we are starting to collect feedback to see if any improvements can be made to the participant experience.

We will be recruiting participants to the study for the next couple of years, and are grateful to be continuing our collaboration with Bipolar Edinburgh. If you have not previously heard about the project and are interested in taking part, please visit our website for more information (click ‘take part’) or contact us at or on 07788512143.

We are keen to get more research news and study updates to Bipolar Edinburgh members, as ultimately you are the people who bipolar research matters most to. If there is a research topic you would like to find out more about, or if you would like to write an article in collaboration with researchers, please get in touch! You can contact Amber Roguski at


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