By Stephanie Abraham

U-M Depression Center Announces 2019 Strategic Translational Research Award Winners

The U-M Depression Center has just named three Strategic Translational Research (STAR) award winners fueled by the Oscar Stern Award for Depression Research Fund. Each award is worth $10,000. The winners include a two post-doctoral research fellows: one in the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute (MBNI) and one in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology; as well as a research fellow in the U-M Department of Psychiatry. Their studies explore the reduction of maladaptive fear; the relationship between calcium channels in the brain and bipolar disorder; and depression and discrimination among older African Americans.

Victor Cazares, PhD, post-doctoral fellow in MBNI, will study “Using Neuroimaging to Visualize Circuits in Prefrontal Cortex that Underlie the Reduction of Maladaptive Fear.” Cazares’ study aims to elucidate how Novelty-Facilitated Extinction (NFE) alters the neural activity of the frontal cortex, and thereby reveal brain changes that lead to a reduction of persistent fear. This study has the potential to open many new research questions and identify targets to aid future development of novel targets for therapeutic approaches that can be translated to the human population for effective treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Additionally, Daniel Schill, BS, PhD, post-doctoral fellow in Cell and Developmental Biology will study “Transcriptional Regulation of CACNA1C in Bipolar Disorder.” Schill’s study is attempting to identify changes in brain cells and how they communicate with each other that contribute to the development of bipolar disorder. It is known that calcium plays a critical role in signaling between cells, and genetic defects in calcium channels have been associated with bipolar disorder. Schill will be investigating how this calcium channel is controlled in the brain. This project should improve our understanding of how brain cells from bipolar patients are different and may identify new therapeutic strategies to help treat prevalent disease.

Finally, Tomorrow Wilson, PhD, research fellow with the Addiction Research Center, will study “Depression and Discrimination as Risk Factors for Alcohol, Cannabis, and Prescription Medication Misuse Among Older African Americans.” Wilson’s study aims to examine discrimination-related stress and its relationship to depressive symptoms, how coping strategies and other resources are used to reduce stress and depression, as well as substance use among older African American adults. Clarifying these relationships will help identify those who are most vulnerable to abuse of alcohol, cannabis, and prescription benzodiazepines and opioids to inform prevention efforts, clinical care, and interventions aimed to reduce mental health disparities.

Established in 2015, the STAR awards were created for Depression Center members who are students, residents, fellows, or post-doctoral candidates and are exploring or testing new research ideas. The awarded funds are used to gather additional and new quantitative or qualitative pilot data, refine methodology, test tools, analyze data, or further any aspect of depression-related research. The Oscar Stern Award for Depression Research promotes innovative, translational research intended to result in earlier identification of depression or bipolar disorder, more effective treatments, and, ultimately, strategies for prevention.