PBS documentary features neuroscientist Kafui Dzirasa’s new approach to treating bipolar disorder

More than five million Americans have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and Kafui Dzirasa ‘01, chemical engineering, is working to develop an electrical device that would stabilize a person’s mood without the side effects caused by medications. His work is featured in “Ride the Tiger: A Guide Through the Bipolar Brain,” a new PBS documentary that gives viewers a glimpse into the lives and stories of people with bipolar disorder.

Dzirasa, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, describes how he is able to approach studying the brain from the perspective of an engineer.

Nearly one third of people with bipolar disorder are prescribed lithium as a way to help manage their symptoms. “These medications go everywhere in the brain. And when they go everywhere, the come along with some side effects that are pretty troubling,” explains Dzirasa.

When it comes to treatment, Dzirasa says, “We want to do the least necessary thing to get [a beneficial] outcome.”

The device that he is creating is able to specifically target a certain part of the brain where there is a “roadblock.” “Because the stimulation is only going where you need it, you don’t have to worry about any of the other side effects,” he notes.

The technology Dzirasa is developing is being tested on mice, which are injected with a human bipolar gene and over time begin to show behaviors that are similar to behaviors exhibited by people with bipolar disorder.

Watch the full documentary “Ride the Tiger: A Guide Through the Bipolar Brain” on PBS or in the window below. Learn more about Dzirasa’s research in a recent UMBC News article about his Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Image: Dr. Kafui Dzirasa. Photo by Les Todd, Duke Photography.