Study Summaries

Recent Study Finds Bias in Mental Health Drug Research

When thousands of psychiatrists attend the American Psychiatric Association (APA) annual meeting, the presentations they hear about research into drug treatments report overwhelmingly on positive results, according to a study published in the June 2012 edition of the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. Of 278 studies presented at the 2009 and 2010 APA meetings that compared at least two medicines against each other for any psychiatric illness, the researchers found that 195 had been supported by industry, and 83 funded by other means. Of the industry-supported studies, 97.4 percent reported results that were positive toward the medicine that the study was designed to test, and 2.6 percent reported mixed results. No industry-sponsored studies with negative results were found. In contrast, when industry was not the source of funding, 68.7 percent of the presentations were positive, and 24.1 percent contained mixed results, while 7.2 percent contained negative results. “This analysis suggests that the APA meeting might be being used as an opportunity to make drugs seem more effective than they are,” said Srijan Sen, M.D., Ph.D., who led the study while in his residency at Yale. Meanwhile, research on such treatments as cognitive behavioral therapy – which doesn’t have industry backing – gets less attention, even though there is growing evidence that such non-drug therapies can have as much effect as medicines in conditions such as depression, according to Science Daily.


Targeting Depression Can Help Diabetes Patients Improve Overall Health

When depression is successfully treated, diabetes can improve as well. Researchers at the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor VA studied a combination of telephone-based therapy and a walking program. Participants experienced a drop in both blood pressure and depression symptoms. “Patients with depression and additional chronic medical conditions do better if their depression is addressed first… and if exercise is also encouraged,” said UM Associate Professor of Psychiatry Marcia Valenstein, M.D., M.S..  Read more about the study here.

Spiritual Retreat Can Lower Depression, Raise Hope in Heart Patients

A four-day spiritual retreat improved depression symptoms in people with heart disease, a new University of Michigan study reports. The retreat included meditation, guided imagery, drumming, journal writing and outdoor activities.  “These types of interventions may be of particular interest to patients who do not want to take antidepressants for the depression symptoms that often accompany coronary heart disease or heart attack,” said Sara Warber, M.D., Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Director of U-M’s Integrative Medicine Program.  The boost in participants’ mood was still present six months after the retreat. Read more about the study here.

New Tool Aims to Improve Measurement of Primary Care Depression

Researchers have found that a new tool is helpful for giving doctors better information about a patient’s recovery from depression. The questionnaire, called the Remission Evaluation and Mood Inventory Tool (REMIT), was studied at the University of Michigan. Lead author Donald E. Nease Jr., M.D. explains that REMIT evaluates a patient’s inner feelings and sense of well-being. By adding the REMIT survey to the standard Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ), researchers were 10% more likely to accurately identify a patient’s recovery status. This tool will give doctors clearer information to help make treatment choices. Read more about the study here.

Peer Support Offers Promise for Reducing Depression Symptoms

New research shows that peer support programs are effective and low-cost tools for fighting depression. A University of Michigan and VA Ann Arbor study found that peer support decreased isolation and stress. Peer support also increased health information sharing, which is important for getting good care.  Lead author Paul Pfeiffer, M.D., M.S. explains that peer support is as effective for treating depression as cognitive behavioral therapy and some traditional treatments. He adds that this coping option is important for people who have side effects from their medication, or whose depression symptoms relapse. Read more about the study here.

University of Michigan Research Finds New Evidence that our Genes Play a Role in our Response to Adversity

Researchers have found new evidence that our genes influence whether a person will experience depression. Srijan Sen, M.D., PhD and his colleagues performed a wide-spread analysis at the University of Michigan. It supported previous findings that an individual’s genetic make-up plays an important role in how they respond to stress. They found significant support for the link between sensitivity to stress and genetic make-up. "This brings us one step closer to being able to identify individuals who might benefit from early interventions or to tailor treatments to specific individuals," Sen says. Read more about the study here.

Stem Cell Research Offers New Hope for Unlocking the Secrets of Bipolar Disorder

New stem cell lines developed from the skin of adults living with bipolar disorder are helping researchers at the University of Michigan Health System explore the genetic and biological roots of bipolar disorder. The stem cells could lay the foundation for a better understanding of bipolar, and how to treat it in the future. “We will be able to see if there are differences in how the neurons of a person with bipolar disorder make connections, determine how they respond to different medications and explore potential deficiencies in signaling pathways,” explains Sue O’Shea, Ph.D., a professor of cell and developmental biology at the Medical School. Read more about the study here.

Scientists Find New Link Between Genes and Stress Response

University of Michigan-led researchers have found a connection between certain genes and producing less of a brain molecule that helps people calm down after stressful events. People with this genetic pattern are less tolerant of stress and may be at higher risk for developing depression. Scientists are hopeful that this link will aid in early diagnosis and intervention for depression and other conditions, and in the development of therapies. Read more about the study here.

Stress-Defeating Effects of Exercise Traced to Emotional Brain Circuit

NIMH researchers Michael Lehmann and Miles Herkenham study how stress contributes to mood disorders. They aim to understand why some animals and people are resilient to stress, while others become ill.  In a recent study with mice, researchers found that those living in a more active and enriching environment showed more emotional resilience than those in comparatively poor housing. These mice had less activity in the part of the brain that triggers a stress response, and showed fewer signs of depression-like symptoms. This knowledge is crucial to developing strategies to help prevent mood disorders. It also suggests targets for new medications, for which there remains a pressing need. Read more about the study here.

Study Reveals New Clues to How Depression May Develop

A new study helps explain the link between an area of the brain and depression. The LHb neurons are associated with how people and animals experience disappointment and negativity. Bo Li, Ph.D. and his team at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York found that activating the LHb neurons in mice increased their depression-like behaviors. Reducing the activity in this area reduced the behaviors. This area also interacted with parts of the brain related to stress response and reward-seeking behavior. This new information could lead to depression treatments that target this area. Read more about the study here.