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PRESS RELEASE

Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund
Launches Genetic Project

First independent repository in the nation to be
used by scientists at University of Michigan,
Stanford and Cornell

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - July 26, 2005 - A national genetic research project to study the link between genes, stress and bipolar disorder has been launched at the University of Michigan Depression Center. The project will be initially funded by $1 million from the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund, founded by Waltraud "Wally" Prechter, in an ongoing effort to conquer the disease that took her husband's life.

The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Genes Project is a large-scale genetic project and DNA repository that will study 1,000 bipolar patients, particularly adolescents with early onset of the disease, and 1,000 matched control participants. The University of Michigan will house the repository, and the research also will involve investigators from Stanford University and Cornell University.

In addition to sharing the knowledge between the three universities, confidential, coded DNA repository samples and clinical information will be made available to scientists worldwide to accelerate and share clinical breakthroughs. "It is essential that this knowledge is shared with other scientists," said Prechter. "We cannot work along parallel paths; we must come together to find the cure for bipolar disorder."

Prechter established The Heinz C. Prechter Fund for Manic Depression in her husband's memory in October 2001, only months after Heinz Prechter fell victim to suicide after suffering intermittent bouts of manic depression for most of his adult life. In 2003 and 2004, Prechter awarded grants totaling almost $2 million to seven universities to further advance breakthrough medical research to help develop cures for bipolar disorder. The Fund focused on research particularly in the fields of psychiatric genetics, pediatric bipolar disorder, neuroimaging and neurosciences.

The Fund, with assets totaling $2.7 million, was transferred to The University of Michigan Health System in 2004 as a donor-advised fund and became the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund. Funding for the new genetic repository will be drawn from that fund and the special laboratory started immediately.

"Unraveling bipolar's genetic vulnerabilities and linking them with stresses and life experiences will open the door to earlier diagnosis, better treatments, and eventual prevention," said Dr. John F. Greden, executive director of U of M Depression Center. "Stopping this terrible disease from ever occurring is our true goal."

Wally Prechter and the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund at The University of Michigan Health System are determined to make a difference in the fight against manic depression. The Fund will continue to encourage the public and private sectors to provide significant funds for breakthrough medical research of bipolar disorder.

"Bipolar disorder is not just an episode of mania or depression," said Dr. Melvin McInnis, M.D., The Upjohn Woodworth Professor of Bipolar Disorder and Depression. "It impacts our patients' lives. It alters their families' lives. It is a long-term pattern of symptoms and disease states that are influenced by biology, genes, and our surroundings. The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Repository marks a new era in the research of bipolar disorder."

Bipolar disorder is a chronic, disabling illness and a leading cause of suicide, especially among young adults and college students. Bipolar disorder typically begins in adolescence and recurs throughout one's lifetime. It is a familial illness with clinical symptoms being influenced by genes, stress and environmental experiences.

"Heinz's passing was a tragedy that changed our lives forever," said Prechter. "However, we can do something to support research to find cures for this illness that robbed us of Heinz. We are determined to make a difference in the fight against manic depression."

Prechter's efforts to raise awareness of bipolar disorder have taken her to Washington, D.C. where she provided testimony before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services requesting a significant increase of federal funding of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for bipolar research. She also asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to convene a national symposium of the "best and brightest" members of the mental health community to create a "research roadmap" for manic depression.

President George W. Bush appointed Prechter to serve on the 15-member New Freedom Commission on Mental Health to help develop solutions to the current mental health care crisis. She also served as co-chair of the Michigan Mental Health Commission in 2004.

The University of Michigan Depression Center is the nation's first comprehensive center devoted to the prevention, detection and treatment of depression, bipolar disorder and related illnesses. It is dedicated to providing national leadership in the area of depression research, in clinical care of patients with depression-related disorders, and in the training of the next generation of physicians and medical scientists who wish to devote their careers to learning more about the causes of depression-related disorders and the best ways to treat them.

(Editor's note: Dr. John F. Greden and Dr. Melvin McInnis are available for interviews. Please contact Susan Ferraro at Franco Public Relations Group at (313) 567-5046, ferraro@franco.com.)

 

Susan Ferraro, APR
Vice President
Franco Public Relations Group
(313) 567-5046
ferraro@franco.com