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Helios BD Study

The Helios BD study aims to deepen our understanding of disrupted circadian rhythms and how Lithium might reduce sensitivity to light in those with bipolar.

At the January meeting, we welcomed Amber Roguski and Nicole Needham from the University of Edinburgh Helios BD project who explained what this study was, why it might be important for helping develop treatments for bipolar disorder in future and how you might sign up for the study.

For those of us with bipolar disorder, there is a very large increase in hospital admissions for manic episodes during the summer months and a big peak of admissions for episodes of depression in the winter:

People with bipolar are often acutely aware, and describe spring as a danger zone and take precautions to get enough sleep and avoid too much light. Conversely, winter and depression have long been linked.

Researchers are beginning to gain an understanding of why this might be. But in order for this knowledge to be usefully employed in developing new treatments, more research is needed. A study is just getting underway at Edinburgh University.

The circadium rhythm is how the body regulates various functions such as sleep, hunger etc. to fit in with the 24-hour daily cycle of the earth around us.

One mechanism of this rhythm is that levels of melatonin in our bloodstream increase when dusk falls. As melatonin levels rise, we begin to feel sleepy:

For people with bipolar there are anomalies in our melatonin levels which affect our sleeping and waking patterns, our energy levels and the timing of our daily activities.

Lithium is well-known to stabilise circadian rhythms in ways that are not so well-understood. It may decrease sensitivity to light in people with bipolar providing part of the explanation as to why it is an effective mood-stabiliser for many users.

The study aims to answer some of these questions:

  • Do people with bipolar disorder have an increased sensitivity to light?

  • Might lithium act to reduce this light sensitivity?

within the broader aim of gaining a greater understanding of circadian disruption in bipolar disorder.

You can help.

The study aims to recruit:

  • 60 people with bipolar disorder who are currently taking lithium.

  • 60 people with bipolar disorder who are not currently taking lithium.

  • 60 people without bipolar disorder.

The study involves:

  • Questionnaires

  • Overnight sleep studies to measure melatonin levels in response to light stimuli

  • Test retinal functioning (colour perception and responses to visual stimuli)

  • Imaging of retinal structure (at 0, 9, 18 months)

Reimbursement of time and expenses is as follows:

  • £15 per hour (£750 for all study activities)

  • Travel to and from study visits

  • Childcare costs

For more information, please visit the study website:

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