New fellowship to expand bipolar study

28 March 2016

Dr Alexis Whitton Current NHMRC/RG Menzies Fellow, Dr Alexis Whitton, will expand her research into bipolar disorder after being awarded the Andrew P Merrill Memorial Fellowship worth $US20,000.

Alexis is currently working on research to improve the early detection of bipolar disorder at the Harvard Medical School, and will now be able to extend her research to examine differences in circadian rhythm disruption between individuals with bipolar disorder and those with unipolar major depressive disorder.

It will be the first research of its kind to compare circadian rhythm irregularity across unipolar and bipolar depression, using objectively quantified and continuously recorded actigraphy data. Alexis says there is growing evidence that disturbances in sleep-wake or ‘circadian’ rhythms may differ in bipolar disorder and unipolar major depression, however there is a lack of research comparing the two.

“In my prior work I have used sleep diaries to quantify day-to-day circadian disturbance, however this project will provide me with an exciting opportunity to acquire and analyse objective, moment-to-moment indices of sleep-wake and active-rest cycles, and relate these data to neural measures of reward circuit functioning,” Alexis said. 

“My aim is to determine whether markers of reward and circadian disturbance can predict bipolar onset in youth with emerging mood conditions.”

Alexis has also just been published in the very first issue of Biological Psychiatry’s new sibling journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience & Neuroimaging. The paper relates directly to her NHMRC project, which shows evidence of persistent blunting of neural reward responses in individuals with a history of depression, even after symptoms have fully remitted.

She will be speaking on her recently-published findings in a symposium at the Anxiety & Depression Association of America conference in Philadelphia in April.