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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.

2015 Emily Mower Provost, M.S., Ph.D.
Modeling Mood Affected Audio-Visual Emotion Perception: A Transformative Approach to Understanding Mood Disorders (2015)
2012 Srijan Sen
Hair cortisol measurement as a potential biomarker for major depression (2012)

 

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.”

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Emily Mower Provost, M.S., Ph.D.
Modeling Mood Affected Audio-Visual Emotion Perception: A Transformative Approach to Understanding Mood Disorders  (2015)

Dr. Emily Mower Provost was awarded $50,000 for winning the 2015 Oscar Stern Award for Depression Research. 

There is a critical clinical need for quantitative objective measures that can be used to assess and treat individuals with mood disorders. Dr. Mower Provost’s research addresses this need by investigating computational methodologies to differentiate emotion perception (EP) patterns  of healthy controls (HC) and individuals with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) or Bipolar Disorder (BP). MDD and BP are common mood disorders characterized by transitions between euthymia (absence of mania/depression) and depression or mania in BP and between euthymia and depression in MDD. Both MDD and BP carry a significant personal and societal burden and are associated with significant cognitive abnormalities including cognitive distortions, impulse control deficits, and the focus of this proposed study, disturbances in EP.

For example, individuals in a depressed state may display more negative biases when interpreting facial and vocal cues compared with HCs, misidentifying neutral faces as angry or sad. However, it is not yet understood how individuals integrate and interpret audio-visual cues to arrive at specific EP. The proposed experiments address this open question, probing the link between mood state, audio-visual cues and EP using novel computational techniques. 

“The results from this study will not only increase our understanding of this complex relationship, but will have important implications for developing therapies to correct any distortions in EP and provide an additional measure of severity for mood disorders,” says Mower Provost.

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