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What is the Study?

The goal of the VA Merit Review Study “Brain Chemistry and Altitude in Bipolar Disorder” is to understand the relationship between brain chemicals and how they are affected by altitude in individuals with Bipolar Disorder. To understand this relationship, we will be collecting MRI brain scans of veterans with and without bipolar disorder.

What is Bipolar Disorder and Why Study It?

Bipolar disorder is a psychiatric illness, and individuals who have it have a suicide rate 60 times higher than the general public. It

s characterized by mood swings from depression to mania, and these mood swings can last for a short or long period of time.

Bipolar Disorder may be a result of alterations in brain chemistry, however, we do not yet know enough about this relationship. Our research team is investigating brain chemistry in adults with bipolar disorder. Given that studies suggest that altitude may affect brain chemistry, we are studying bipolar disorder at sea level (in Boston, MA) and at altitude (in Salt Lake City, UT).

Who Can Be in the Study?

We are looking for three different groups of participants:

  • “Healthy” Control Subjects – i.e., Veterans without any previous or current significant medical conditions or ANY prior or current psychiatric diagnoses
  • “Euthymic” (currently NOT DEPRESSED OR MANIC) individuals with a Bipolar I Diagnosis
  • Currently DEPRESSED individuals with a Bipolar I Diagnosis

There are several criteria you must meet to be eligible for this study:

  • Must be a veteran
  • Have lived in the Intermountain West for at least the past two years
  • No travel outside the Intermountain West in the past three months
  • No air travel of ANY KIND in the past three months
  • Must be between 18 - 45 years old
  • You are comfortable with an MRI scan (e.g., severe claustrophobia, severe back pain)
  • Cannot be pregnant or breastfeeding
  • No alcohol or substance within the past 3 months (must pass a UDS as well)

What Will I Be Asked to Do If I Participate in the Study?

If you are interested in participating in the study, please call Colin Riley for a phone screening. If you pass the phone screening, we will schedule an appointment for an assessment.

During the assessment you will participate in a clinical interview, complete questionnaires, and provide a urine sample for drug and pregnancy testing (if you’re female) to determine if you are eligible for the study.

If you are eligible, we will schedule a blood draw at the VA and an MRI of the brain at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI).

What Will I Get for Participating in the Study?

  • $25 for attending the screening visit
  • $50 for attending the brain scan

Who Should I Contact / How Do I Get Started?

If you are interested in participating in the study or would like more information, please contact our Study Coordinator Colin Riley at or 801-450-2196.