Issue #8 - Winter/Spring 2019
Depression Grand Challenge Newsletter
Please Take 2 Minutes to Support the
DGC with an Online Vote!

We submitted a proposal for funding through the My LA2050 Grants Challenge sponsored by the Goldhirsh Foundation. 

Our proposal, Humanizing and Destigmatizing Depression is within the "LIVE" category. Only the proposals with the top-10 most votes in this category will be considered for $100,000 in funding so your vote can make the difference.    

To read our proposal and learn more about My LA2050 Grants Challenge, follow this link:

The Depression Grand Challenge team is working to cut the burden of depression in half by 2050 and eliminate it by the end of the century. At its core, the DGC is driven by UCLA's conviction that new approaches are needed to prevent, diagnose, and treat depression. We have organized our approach to this effort into four components--the 100K Study, Innovative Treatment Network, Discovery Neuroscience, and Awareness and Hope. This newsletter provides a look at progress to date.
100K Person Study 
Goal: To obtain a comprehensive understanding of the causes, types and trajectories of depression

We are relying on long-term studies of different and complementary groups of people to uncover and identify genetic and environmental risk factors as well as protective factors for depression. As a foundational effort for this component, we currently are conducting multiple Human Studies Projects that are progressing through various stages to demonstrate efficacy and scalability of depression treatments and protocols. Research activities to date have supported the development of this research platform, and addressed key outstanding issues to enable a study of this size (e.g., validating a brief, adaptive screening tool against clinical rating scales). Near-term research activities are focused on addressing remaining outstanding issues before the research platform is finalized.


Some highlights of the DGC's accomplishments to date, including both research findings and for setting the foundation for the full-scale 100K Study, include the following:
  • Established an infrastructure within UCLA Health to support the Human Studies Projects, an integral step for the progression of both the 100K Study and the Innovative Treatment Network (ITN)
  • Commenced the first recruitment stage for the 100K Study, in which patients enrolled in the UCLA Mood Disorders Clinic were invited to participate in a three-month behavior tracking study
  • Advanced towards identifying the genetic basis of major depression, including obtaining funding for additional large-scale sample collection outside of UCLA
To learn more about the Human Demonstration Projects and check the current status of various studies, refer to the  DGC Summer 2018 External Newsletter.
Innovative Treatment Network
Goal: To develop new treatments for depression and anxiety and concurrently increase the scalability and accessibility of evidence-based treatments for a variety of populations

Approximately 75% of people suffering from depression are ineffectively treated or not receiving treatment. Development of new treatments has been slow and has had little impact on this statistic, which we see as having two root causes: (1) lack of knowledge of the precise mechanisms underlying depression, which prevents us from honing existing treatments and developing effective new ones; (2) lack of access due to a variety of reasons including insufficient numbers of trained clinicians, costs and stigma associated with depression.

While we await new treatments that may come with advances in the Discovery Neuroscience component, we are creating a pathway for developing personalized treatments that are more effective than the current 50% success rate, and that improve access. Our strategy uses smart phones to detect and actually deliver treatment for depression on a scale not previously imaginable. We have positioned the ITN component for success with these two parallel strategies.


Some notable ITN achievements to date include:
  • Created an organizational structure that can support the work of ITN and make the achievement of the its goals a possibility
  • Successfully established a model for online screening of symptoms of depression, anxiety and suicidality
  • Developed and implemented a scalable tiered-treatment approach in conjunction with an online mental health screening model, and implemented this program with the UCLA student body under the brand name of the STAND (Screening and Treatment for Anxiety and Depression) Program
  • To date, reached approximately 5,000 undergraduate student participants through the STAND Program, with 800 of those individuals enrolling in one of the treatment studies offered
  • Completed pilot trials on new treatments derived from advances in neuroscience that specifically target anhedonia (a feature of depression)
  • Provided unique training opportunities for future professionals
To learn more about the STAND Program, please refer to the DGC Fall 2018 External Newsletter
Discovery Neuroscience 
Goal: Identify mechanisms that give rise to depression and develop new treatments from that information

The long term goal of the Discovery Neuroscience component is to use the 100K Study to uncover the various forms of depression and their corresponding mechanisms to target for treatment.

The Discovery Neuroscience component of the DGC has established a community of neuroscientists within UCLA committed to understanding the neurobiology of major depressive disorder. This group has engaged with the other components of the DGC and is advancing the knowledge and activities of the DGC. 

  • Created a Drosophila platform to determine how changes in extracellular serotonin affect the function of cells expressing specific subtypes if serotonin receptors
  • Recognized cytokine profiles that are changed in a neuroinflammation model of depression
  • Pinpointed transcription modules that are enriched with stress-dysregulated genes
  • Found evidence to support that a new antidepressant, Brexanolone, can be used in the treatment of postpartum depression
  • Developed a new hardware platform for closed loop control of neural activity
To learn more about this component please refer to the DGC Summer 2017 External Newsletter.
Awareness and Hope
Goal: To understand and end the stigma and prejudice associated with depression

Stigma and prejudice have contributed enormously to making depression the world's #1 health problem. Prejudice and stigma are among the main reasons that: funding for depression research and treatment has long been disproportionately low compared to that allocated for disorders with a comparable public health impact; people throughout the world are hesitant to seek help; and people fail to stick with treatment. Ending prejudice against those who suffer from depression is integral to achieving the DGC's overarching goals as prejudice prevents many people from seeking or receiving treatment. We know, however, that ending stigma is not simply a matter of educating people about depression; abundant research shows that scientifically accurate and well-meaning campaigns may even increase prejudice. As such, as in the other DGC components, for Awareness and Hope to succeed it must be based on state-of-the-art research, engaging leading scholars who will work together to enhance our understanding of the stigma related to depression, and using that information to devise the most effective campaigns to end it.

To complement the research, we need an outreach strategy. While a number of activities have been undertaken to raise awareness and decrease stigma associated with depression, to date these efforts have been ad hoc and without a comprehensive plan.

Our vision is that the component will serve two purposes: 
  1. A program of research aimed at achieving a better understanding of the stigma and prejudice surrounding depression
  2. An outreach strategy that uses knowledge currently available and from new research to create the most effective campaigns to end them
We hope to announce an academic leader for this component of the DGC by the next newsletter issue. In the meantime, we are working with alum and strategist Ann Wang to develop an outreach strategy. The My LA2050 Grants Challenge proposal is a foundational element to this strategy. To help us in our efforts, please vote so that we have a chance at securing funding! 

For more information about Awareness & Hope activities to date, please refer to the DGC Winter 2018 External Newsletter.
Thank You for Your Support!
We hope that you can feel the momentum of the DGC. Thank you for being a loyal supporter as we transformed this Grand Challenge from an ambitious idea to reality. We wouldn't be here without your encouragement and generosity. We look forward to sharing future updates with you, including the outcomes of our recent external review. 
Upcoming Events
My LA2050 Voting Period
Support the DGC with the click of a button! Cast your vote for the DGC's proposal for the My LA2050 Grants Challenge before 5 PM on April 29, to help us be one of the top-10 in the "LIVE" category, and thus eligible to win $100K to dedicate to humanizing and destigmatizing depression.
Mental Health Month 2019
May is Mental Health Month. Follow us on @UCLAThinkGrand on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for special announcements and content about  UCLA's efforts to cut the burden of depression in half by 2050.
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