What is the MEDALS Program?

Under the leadership of Amit Anand, MD, (Director), the MEDALS Center focuses on clinical treatment of and research into mood disorders in adults and children. The MEDALS program was created with the recognition that collaborations involving geneticists, pediatric, adult, and geriatric psychiatrists are infrequent but important since mood disorders affect many individuals across their entire lifespan. Mood disorders often start early in life and negatively affect young people’s academic success and then their careers. The illness usually rears its head during middle age and many times becomes worse during the older years when medical issues and other losses have a big impact. For the prevention, treatment, and management of the consequences of mood disorders, a life span perspective proves to be essential. The MEDALS program – with its emphasis on collaborative clinical care and research – endeavors to fulfill these aims.

Common Mood Disorders

The two most common mood disorders, major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder (BD), are the leading cause of disability worldwide, even compared to chronic medical issues like heart disease and cancer. It is estimated that BD afflicts 0.5 – 5% of the population in its minor and more serious forms, while MDD affects up to 20%, at some point in their lives. Although mood disorders are the most prevalent and common of psychiatric disorders, many times they are left untreated and take terrible tolls on individuals and their families. We still don’t have the answers to many of the questions, though; for example, the cause of bipolar is still not clear, despite significant advances made in neuroscience over the last fifty years and after several decades of research.

Early recognition and treatment is essential to prevent the development of full blown severe illness. Unfortunately, mood disorders in children and adolescents are particularly difficult to diagnose and most commonly present as emotional dysregulation and behavioral problems.

How the MEDALS Program can help

There are still no tests available to make a diagnosis of a mood disorder and none available to monitor treatment, unlike most other medical illnesses. Obviously, one major obstacle in the development of laboratory tests for diagnosis and treatment of mood disorders, as well as other psychiatric illnesses, has been the difficulty of studying the living human brain. However, recent advances in brain imaging technology such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) have now made it possible to study the structure and function of the brain in patients and healthy controls. Such techniques can detect changes in the activity of the brain and have the potential to provide “biomarkers” which could be used to diagnose mood disorders and monitor treatment effects. Therefore, a major focus of research in the MEDALS program involves state-of-the-art neuroimaging techniques.

The MEDALS faculty brings a variety of interests and experience related to the clinical care and research of mood disorders; joining Drs. Anand (youth and adults), Falcone (pediatric) and Malone (adult, brain stimulation techniques).