Guest Bloggers

  • Louisa Benton

    Executive Director

  • Steven P. Roose, M.D

    Professor of Clinical Psychiatry

  • Huda Akil, Ph.D

    DTF Chair

Honoring Mental Health Awareness Month, Friday 29 April 2022

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

In honor of this important month, we want to share the latest exciting news from our research labs.  HDRF’s mission to advance the understanding and treatment of depression has never been more urgent.

In fall 2020, the Hope for Depression Research Foundation began a clinical trial of tianeptine, which represents a brand new category of antidepressant.  The trial is underway at Columbia University and Mount Sinai Medical Center, and at this writing shows early promising results.

The trial is focused on patients who are treatment-resistant — they have not responded to the conventional medications available today.  The scientists in our Depression Task Force (DTF) are testing the hypothesis that a certain profile of these patients will respond dramatically to tianeptine because of their specific brain chemistry .   These patients will have two evident symptoms:  1) they have a behavioral symptom known as rejection sensitivity, or a blunted ability to cope with the psychosocial stress of rejection (i.e. losing a job or promotion, ending a relationship) and 2) they have disrupted activity in a specific rejection and pain circuit in the brain, as detected by a brain scan.

The subjects are being give tianeptine because this compound has a unique ability — discovered by DTF scientists — to repair deficits in the rejection and pain circuit through targeted molecular action.  The DTF believes that depression will remit as the physical circuit is repaired, and it’s also possible that the behavioral symptom of hyper-sensitivity to rejection will be alleviated.

By repairing circuit deficits at a fine-tuned location, tianeptine may finally help patients where other medications have failed.  If the trial is successful, it will lead to a new precision medicine approach to depression that will greatly increase response rates by pairing patients with the right treatment for their underlying biology.

Clinical trials began October 2020 and patient recruitment has been extended to 2023 to reach a study goal of 75 patients.   Early results are extremely encouraging, and the teams are actively recruiting patients to continue the work.  The study seeks men and women ages 21-60 who have not responded to standard antidepressant medication.

If you are interested in learning more about the study or volunteering as a subject, please contact Nicolas Cimino at nicolas.cimino@nyspi.columbia.edu or Amelia Karim at  amelia.karim@mssm.edu.

 

HDRF Depression Task Force in the News, Tuesday 8 October 2019

We’re pleased to share the recent New York Times coverage of major results from the lab of Depression Task Force member Helen Mayberg, a professor of neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry, and neuroscience at Mount Sinai.

Brain Stimulation Shows Promise in Treating Severe Depression (Oct. 4) reports on Dr. Mayberg’s pioneering work in Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) — a novel treatment for severe depression that involves implanting electrodes in the middle of the brain.

Over several years, Dr. Mayberg’s lab has assessed the effects of Deep Brain Stimulation on a select group of severely depressed patients, in a major study funded in part by HDRF, thanks to your support. Desperate for answers, the patients came to Mayberg after repeated failure to respond to antidepressants, psychotherapy, and even electroshock therapy.

Click here to read the full article…

New Hope for PTSD Treatment, Thursday 16 May 2019

Newly Identified Neural Circuit May Be Target for Future PTSD Treatments

A research team funded by the Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF) has identified a specific circuit of young adult-born neurons in the brain that plays a key role in the recognition of a safe versus hazardous situations.

Their findings, recently published in Science, could pave the way for more targeted treatments for conditions such as PTSD that are associated with hypervigilance and recurrent distressing memories.

“Without these cells, we would be incapable of distinguishing similar situations from each other, a process sometimes termed pattern separation, which is critical not only for forming novel memories but also for discriminating between safe and dangerous contexts,” said the study’s senior investigator, René Hen, PhD, of Columbia University, and a founding member of HDRF’s Depression Task Force.

Click here to read the full article…

Breakthrough Research from HDRF, Wednesday 5 September 2018

What is Acetyl-L-Carnitine? Depression linked to low levels of brain molecule

A major study funded by Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF) at Rockefeller University has revealed that a compound known as Acetyl-L-Carnitine (LAC) may be a biomarker for depression — a discovery that could lead to a potential blood test for depression.

The study, published July 30 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), also points to a breakthrough new class of anti-depressant that is faster-acting and free of side effects than the current treatments that have been in use for the past 30 years.

Click here to read the full article…

HDRF Depression Task Force: Researchers’ Exciting New Findings, Thursday 5 October 2017

Since 2012, the acclaimed researchers of HDRF’s Depression Task Force (DTF) have worked tirelessly to better understand the brain biology of depression in order to develop a new type of anti-depressant, one that works differently from the 20-plus drugs already on the market. Finding a new option is crucial, since 50% of patients do not respond fully to available anti-depressants.

We are delighted to announce that the Depression Task Force is closer than ever to achieving this bold goal: A recent major paper authored by the entire team reveals they have discovered novel, tangible approaches to new treatments, and they are ready to drive these discoveries from animal testing to clinical trials.

The article, “Treatment Resistant Depression: A Multi-scale, Systems Biology Approach,” appears online this month in the prestigious journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, and will soon be in print. Working together, the seven investigators of the DTF have found new candidate mechanisms for treatment in a relatively short amount of time. It is a brilliant example of collaboration across multiple laboratories and universities.

Here are the highlights:

  • They have identified a circuit deep in the brain that appears to play a key role in depression.
  • The circuit is not in just one area of the brain, but connects four hubs that regulate emotion.
  • Specific patterns of neurons within the circuit become over-active or under-active in depression.
  • They have started to map the genetic architecture of these regions, and identify how the architecture changes in depression.
  • As a result, they have identified not just precise micro-circuits, but underlying genes that seem to play a key role in depression.

To read the entire paper, please click here.

The publication marks an exciting five-year milestone for our research plan. The DTF is now preparing small, pilot clinical trials of potential therapies, entering into a more mature phase of drug discovery with a handful of promising molecular targets.

As clinical trials commence, the DTF will continue work to find a physical diagnosis for depression and identify different depression subtypes. It is not far-fetched to imagine that in the next decade we will see a whole new generation of treatments – be it drug, brain stimulation or psychotherapy — that work precisely where they are needed.

Yes, there is much hard work ahead. We can’t help but marvel at all that we’ve accomplished, and with your help, all that we will accomplish. Thank you as always for your support of our research mission.