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Strategic Translational Research Awards

Established in 2015, STAR (Strategic Translational Research) awards are available to Depression Center members who are students, residents, fellows, or post-doctoral candidates. STAR funding is designed for exploring or testing research ideas. Funds may be 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. Preference is given to proposals containing innovative and original research ideas brought forth by the trainee and are not incremental to an extant research program.

2017 Ann Zarina Kraal, M.S.
Mechanisms Linking Depressive Symptoms to Cognitive Impairment in Diabetes
2017 Lauren Gerlach, D.O.
Use of citalopram in reducing incident dementia
2017 Ewa Cyza, Ph.D.
Developing a text message follow-up intervention for families of suicidal adolescents seeking emergency department care: A pilot randomized controlled trial
2016 Stefanie Block, Ph.D. Candidate, Psychology
Neural Mechanisms Underlying Attention in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
2016 Jamie Lawler, Ph.D.
Toward Prevention of Childhood Depression and Anxiety: Identifying Risk and Protective Factors
2016 Cynthia Burton, Ph.D.
Neuromodulation plus cognitive training to improve working memory among individuals with serious mental illness
2015 Benjamin Singer, M.D., Ph.D
Depression after sepsis: a role for CNS inflammation
2015 Paige Safyer, Psychology Ph.D. Candidate
Face-to-Face Neuroscience of the Parent-Infant Dyad
2015 Katherine Foster, Ph.D. Candidate
A Multimodal, Biobehavioral Model of Distress-Reactive Substance Use Risk in Depression

Ann Zarina Kraal, M.S.
Mechanisms Linking Depressive Symptoms to Cognitive Impairment in Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) is frequently accompanied by depressive symptoms and cognitive impairment, particularly in older adults. Previous research has suggested that depressive symptoms are associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and greater age-related cognitive decline. Mechanisms underlying these depression-related risks are poorly understood but may include poor health behaviors leading to adverse physiological consequences. However, patterns of association remain unclear, and to date, comprehensive studies of depression in diabetes are limited. Additionally, it is unknown how patterns of association differ in Black older adults, who are at higher risk of T2DM, CVD, and cognitive impairment. The proposed study aims to characterize depressive symptoms, CVD risk factors, and cognitive function among diverse elders with T2DM. Clarifying these associations will significantly enhance our mechanistic understanding of the role of depressive symptoms in CVD risk and age-related cognitive decline in Black and White older adults, and contribute to the evidence-base needed to identify potential targets for personalized, culturally-inclusive interventions.

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Lauren Gerlach, D.O.
Use of citalopram in reducing incident dementia

The relationship between depression and dementia has proven complex. The majority of studies demonstrate that depression is a risk factor for development of cognitive impairment and dementia in later life. Despite this, few studies have examined whether treatment of depression has an impact on the onset of dementia. Furthermore, recent studies have found that the antidepressant citalopram has been associated with a decrease in the amount of newly generated beta-amyloid, which is thought to be a key component in the development of dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. The goal of this project is to conduct a comprehensive study using Veterans Health Administration data to determine whether use of the antidepressant citalopram in patients with depression is associated with a decreased risk of developing dementia. Dr. Gerlach will be mentored by Helen C. Kales M.D. and Donovan Maust M.D., investigators from the renowned UM Program for Positive Aging on this research.

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Ewa Cyza, Ph.D.
Developing a text message follow-up intervention for families of suicidal adolescents seeking emergency department care: A pilot randomized controlled trial

Emergency departments (EDs) play a critical role in providing care to large numbers of adolescents at risk for suicide. Because linkage to outpatient treatment for many of these teens may be delayed or not initiated, intervening with adolescents and their families during an ED visit offers a promising window of opportunity to prevent adverse post-discharge outcomes, including suicidal behavior. Parents or caregivers of suicidal teens are crucial in partnering with providers to ensure that specific best practice recommendations are implemented following discharge. To increase adherence to these recommended strategies for promoting the safety and support of teens after ED visit, this study proposes to develop and pilot a technology-augmented (text message boosters) intervention for parents or caregivers, with the goal of improving services for teens at risk for suicide transitioning from ED care.

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Stefanie Block, Ph.D. Candidate, Psychology
Neural Mechanisms Underlying Attention in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) are two psychiatric conditions that often co-occur and develop after stressful life events. The two conditions share a common set of symptoms including emotional numbing, anhedonia, negative cognitions about one's self and the world, and persistent negative mood states. People with these conditions frequently report problems with attention such as difficulty concentrating and the inability to turn attention away from their own thoughts. Attention abnormalities may be a common mechanism underlying the development of both PTSD and MDD. The objective of this study to use neuroimaging to better understand neural networks involved in attention that may be affected in these conditions. Studying the biological factors underlying PTSD development could lead to better understanding of the etiology of depression. In turn, studying depressive symptoms in PTSD could lead to improved PTSD treatment. We expect that PTSD and MDD subjects will show deficits in attention and attention related neural networks, which may elucidate the underlying basis of emotion dysfunction.

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Jamie Lawler, Ph.D.
Toward Prevention of Childhood Depression and Anxiety: Identifying Risk and Protective Factors

This project's aim is to learn why some young children develop anxiety and depression, and what we can do to help prevent it. In the current study, 4-7 year old children and their families come to our lab and participate in a number of tasks. We are measuring children's environment, including the parenting they receive, their biology, by taking saliva samples, and their self-control to determine what factors might put them at risk for anxiety and depression. One year following this lab visit, we will interview parents to see which children have developed symptoms of anxiety and depression. Using this information, we hope to identify targets for intervention to help prevent depression and anxiety in children before they begin.

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Cynthia Burton, Ph.D.
Neuromodulation plus cognitive training to improve working memory among individuals with serious mental illness

People with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia often have difficulty with neurocognition, or thinking abilities like attention and memory. Importantly, these problems interfere with daily activities like working, going to school, or having relationships. Treatments to improve neurocognition are therefore being developed and include cognitive training programs as well as non-invasive brain stimulation techniques. This study will investigate whether combining these two interventions is feasible and can improve working memory abilities in people diagnosed with psychiatric illness. This work represents a step toward providing effective treatments to help those with severe mental health conditions achieve their personal recovery goals.

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Benjamin Singer, M.D., Ph.D
Depression after sepsis: a role for CNS inflammation

The proposed study seeks to investigate potential mechanisms of sepsis-induced neuropsychiatric morbidity in humans using a novel, naturalistic mouse model of sepsis developed by the investigators, cecal ligation and puncture (CLP) to study the time course of anxiety and depression like symptoms, alterations in microglial gene expression, and the effects of systemic pharmacological TNF-alpha blockade. Strengths of the proposal include use of an interesting, novel and partially validated mouse model, and the potentially powerful combination of behavioral measures of anxiety- and depression-like syndromes, sophisticated cellular sorting and molecular measures of gene expression in specific cell types, and pharmacological studies to identify contribution of specific species of cytokines. Thus this proposal has the potential to help elucidate potential cellular and molecular mechanisms of inflammation involved in long-term neuropsychiatric effects of sepsis, and how one class of pharmacotherapy may be working.

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Paige Safyer, Psychology Ph.D. Candidate
Face-to-Face Neuroscience of the Parent-Infant Dyad

The proposed study addresses an important topic—that of transmission of risk from depressed parent to infant—and employs cutting-edge technology for functional neuroimaging of the infant brain. This is a neuroscience-based project, looking at infant-parent dyads and using a new functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) device to study these relationships. Paige is a graduate student in the joint program in social work and psychology. The idea is to have brain-based models which might inform risks. Focus will be on depressed moms and seeing differences in brain activity for infants of depressed moms interacting with their healthy control fathers. This study may lay a foundation for subsequent work with a larger sample to more fully test associations and contrasts for depressed vs. non-depressed parents, and mothers versus fathers. Research that identifies processes related to the intergenerational transmission of risk is important for the development of appropriate interventions.

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Katherine Foster, Ph.D. Candidate
A Multimodal, Biobehavioral Model of Distress-Reactive Substance Use Risk in Depression

Depression symptoms are known to alter biological, psychological, and behavioral responses to emotional distress. These responses have important implications for whether depression symptoms are likely to desist, recur, or escalate in the future. For example, a longstanding hypothesis contends that alcohol and drugs are commonly used to "self-medicate" emotional distress in the context of depression, thereby increasing risk for developing a comorbid alcohol/substance use problems. Importantly, the co-occurrence of these problems confers a severely debilitating prognosis worse than either condition alone. Utilizing the resources of the BioSocial Methods Collaborative (BSMC) through the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, the proposed study will model how patterns of real-time psychological, biological, and behavioral reactivity to emotional distress linked with depression symptoms simultaneously increases vulnerability to alcohol/substance use problems (e.g., by increasing attention and sensitivity to along with subsequent use of alcohol and illicit drugs). While prior approaches have typically fragmented the coordinated action of these biobehavioral system reactivity to everyday distress, this project integrates reactivity in real-time to identify the specific and interacting mechanisms (i.e., treatment targets) for severe outcomes associated with depression and addition comorbidity.

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