June 2022 Depression Task Force Scientific Summit,
June 30, 2022

In June more than 40 neuroscientists from the Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF) Depression Task Force met in person at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor for a three day annual retreat and summit.  They shared exciting research updates and bonded as colleagues.

This was the seventh annual retreat for the Depression Task Force consortium, a major, multi-university effort to advance the understanding and treatment of depression.  The scientists were grateful to be together after covid restrictions forced the meeting to be on zoom for the past two years.

“We need this community to tackle a complex problem like depression,” said Dr. Huda Akil, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Michigan, who is a founding member of the Task Force.  She pointed out that depression is a shadow pandemic on the heels of COVID.

The Depression Task Force consists of nine principal investigators, each of whom run large labs.  The investigators are:  Dr. Akil of Michigan, Dr. Eric Nestler of Mount Sinai, Dr. Helen Mayberg of Mount Sinai, Dr. Rene Hen of Columbia, Dr. Jonathan Javitch of Columbia, Dr. Michael Meaney of McGill University and Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, Dr. Elisabeth Binder of Germany’s Max Planck Institute, Dr. Conor Liston of Weill Cornell, and Dr. Kafui Dzirasa of Duke.

By extension, all of the junior scientists in these labs are also part of the Task Force consortium and appreciate it as career-defining opportunity.  They have learned trust and seamlessly share information and research data even before it is published.

“Young scientists are often told, ‘don’t share your work – it’s a competitive world out there,’ but with the Task Force, it’s okay – you are among family,” said Akil.

Each year the retreat allows the young scientists to interact, spark ideas, and benefit from being mentored by the principal investigators.  The collaborative approach has propelled the science over the past decade, since 2012 when the DTF was formed.

“They’ve really shaped each other’s science in ways that is so rare,” said  Dr. Joanna Louise Spencer-Segal, MD, Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan.  “It keeps it fast, it keeps it relevant.  It keeps people focused on the goal, which is drug discovery.”

While the days were packed with presentations on campus, Tuesday night dinner allowed for an excursion to Cornman Farms’ Red Barn just outside the city.   There the scientists enjoyed wine and a gourmet meal served with the sunset pouring in the barn windows.

All the members of the Depression Task Force expressed thanks to Pamela Patterson, PhD, a young scientist in Dr. Akil’s lab, who organized the entire three-day event.


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