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Oscar Stern Award for Depression Research

In 2011, the University of Michigan received a generous gift from Helmut F. Stern of Ann Arbor to endow a research award at the Depression Center. This gift was made in honor of his uncle Oscar Stern who helped him obtain a visa to leave Germany when Hitler was in power. Not long after assisting Helmut to come to the U.S., Oscar Stern was away on a business trip when he learned that his three siblings, whom he had sheltered at his home in the Netherlands, were taken by the Nazis and killed. Distraught that he had been unable to safeguard his family, Oscar took his own life. This gift to create the “Oscar Stern Award in Depression Research” honors Oscar’s bravery, generosity and compassion, and expresses Helmut Stern’s gratitude to his uncle, without whom he might not be alive today. The intent of this award is to promote high impact, innovative ideas leading to strategic interventions to prevent or manage mood disorders.

Srijan Sen, M.D., Ph.D.
Hair cortisol measurement as a potential biomarker for major depression (2012)

Dr. Sen’s project will examine the relationship between measures of cortisol (a stress hormone) obtained through hair samples and the development of depression symptoms under stress.  Along with Depression Center member James Abelson, M.D., Ph.D., Sen and his team will incorporate the new technology of hair cortisol measurement into an existing study of physicians during their internship year, a time when rates of stress and depression have been shown to increase dramatically. Sen will assess whether this unique measure of cumulative stress (blood and saliva measure only momentary stress cortisol levels) can be used as a biomarker for major depression and serve as an inexpensive way to diagnose depression, aid in treatment selection, and help monitor how patients respond to treatment. Exploring whether this new measure of cortisol predicts or reflects depression levels in these young physicians opens the door for use of this measure in all populations. 

“I’m extremely grateful for this award,” says Sen. It will allow us to assess the utility of this new and exciting cortisol measurement tool and hopefully improve our understanding and treatment of depression.”