2015 Research Report

 Your support in 2015 made a meaningful difference.  We are pleased to provide this summary of significant research progress over the past year.

The Depression Task Force

 Left to right:

Helen Mayberg, MD at Emory University
Bruce S. McEwen, PhD at Rockefeller University
Joshua Gordon, MD, PhD at Columbia University
Rene Hen, PhD at Columbia Unversity
Michael J. Meaney, PhD at McGill University
Eric Nestler, MD, PhD at Mount Sinai
Huda Akil, PhD at University of Michigan

 The Depression Task Force is an outstanding collaboration of leading neuroscientists – each a pioneer in their own field – including genetics, epigenetics, molecular biology, electrophysiology and brain imaging.   This team has created an unprecedented Research Plan to find the root causes of depression and biomarkers for new treatments.

Their research broke new ground in 2015, opening up pathways to find new and better anti-depressants in the year ahead.  The fact that they are collaborating and sharing information via the HDRF Data Center is a key reason they are achieving results with their HDRF-funded research grants.

2015 Research Highlights Include:

Attacking Treatment-Resistant Depression

50% of depression patients do not respond to existing medications. The Depression Task Force is confronting the problem of treatment resistance head on.

  • They have developed groundbreaking animal models of treatment resistance in the laboratory. Lack of these models has been holding the field back for decades.
  • These new models allow our scientists to understand the brain biology and genetics associated with treatment resistance. In 2015 the DTF discovered of a handful of proteins and genes they’ve linked to depression that they will continue to study collaboratively in the coming year.
  • Our scientists can also test new candidate drugs to see if they work when traditional medications (like the SSRIs) stop working, or fail to work in the first place. They are currently focused on several new antidepressant drug candidates that show encouraging results in the laboratory.

 Expanding the Research Team

  • Thanks to your support, we expanded our Depression Task Force of elite brain scientists from seven to eight members
  • Our newest member is Dr. Jonathan Javitch of Columbia University, a world-renowned psychiatrist, biochemist and biophysicist who will start to develop potential new medications based on the team’s latest discoveries.

Changing Public Attitudes                                                                                  

  • HDRF also strives to raise awareness and reduce stigma around depression. In 2015 we launched a national campaign with a public awareness advertisement that strikes at the heart of common misperceptions about depression.    Adforum recognized the ad as a top five pick for the week of December 21.  The ad had 20 million impressions nationwide on television and targeted social media and generated an overwhelmingly positive response.

Combined, in 2015 the eight neuroscientists of the Depression Task Force published their findings in over two dozen articles in major publications such as Scientific American, Nature, Science, Biological Psychiatry and Molecular Psychiatry.   Significant articles include:

  1. Fibroblast Growth Factor 9 is a Novel Modulator of Negative Affect
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 2015
    by Dr. Huda Akil, University of MichiganThis study was recognized by The New Yorker as one of the most interesting psychology findings of 2015.

    Akil’s lab discovers a new chemical target for treating depression: a brain protein called FGF9.   FGF stands for Fibroblast Growth Factor, a molecule that stimulates the growth of nerve cells in the embryo and also seem to regulate our emotional state later in life.  The study shows that levels of FGF9 are too highly concentrated in individuals with depression.  This finding could lead to new strategies for drug treatment.
  1. ACF Chromatin Remodeling Mediating Stress-Induced Depression
    Nature Medicine, October 2015
    Eric Nestler, Mt. Sinai Medical CenterDr. Nestler’s lab has discovered that mice who are susceptible to depression have higher levels of a brain protein known as ACF1.  This protein suppresses genes in a key mood area of the brain, leading to depression, researchers believe.
  1. Treating Depression at the Source
    Scientific American, February 2015
    Helen Mayberg, Emory University, AtlantaDr. Mayberg describes her pioneering surgery in which electrodes are placed in the brain to send electrical current through circuits that are not functioning properly in people with major depression.