Dr. Stephanie Dulawa: Developing Faster-Onset Antidepressants

Rising Star Awardee Stephanie Dulawa has discovered a new class of compound that relieves depressive behavior in mice in 5 days vs. the 2-4 weeks conventional drugs require.

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, claiming potentially years of constructive activity from close to 16 million lives in the U.S (per the NIMH). The sooner someone living with depression can find relief, the sooner he or she can return to a productive and fulfilling life. Although current antidepressant drugs can reduce the symptoms, they take at least two to four weeks to achieve a therapeutic effect, for individuals who respond. Clearly, sufferers could benefit from innovative treatments which could start to work more reliably and more quickly.

Stephanie Dulawa, Ph.D., Associate Professor at the University of San Diego’s Department of Psychiatry, winner of the 2014 One Mind Institute Rising Star Depression Research Award in Memory of George Largay, has discovered a neurochemical target in the mouse brain that will enable the development of faster-acting antidepressant medications for humans.

As published in the prestigious journal Molecular Psychiatry on March 21, 2017, Dulawa’s team has successfully completed an investigation of the effects of inhibiting an enzyme called Glyoxalase 1 (GLO1) in the mouse brain. The team had predicted, based on their previous research showing that an excess of GLO1 increases anxiety in mice, that inhibiting GLO1 might work as an antidepressant. They compared the behavior of mice of three types (untreated, treated with GLO1 inhibitors, and treated with the conventional antidepressant fluoxetine) using an array of tests, and made two surprising discoveries: Not only did inhibiting GLO1 (by genetic or pharmaceutical means) produce antidepressant effects in mice, but it started to act after only 5 days of treatment. Considering that the conventional antidepressant took 14 days to show a therapeutic effect, the implications are exciting—faster relief from depression may be on the way.

Dulawa’s team feels the cautious excitement that comes with opening the door to the development of an original class of fast-acting antidepressants. Dr. Dulawa says, “There are currently no approved fast-acting antidepressants, so finding something like this is unusual.”

Dulawa’s team has made yet another valuable contribution to future medication development: Their second paper published in Molecular Psychiatry on March 21, 2017 offers a primer for scientists on how to identify fast-onset antidepressants using rodent models. Her assessment provides recommendations based on the relative usefulness of seven rodent models currently used to test how rapidly a prospective antidepressant begins to work. Dulawa’s recommendations can optimize and accelerate the discovery of new, fast-onset antidepressant compounds, enabling safer, more effective medications to arrive sooner.

We at One Mind Institute are indeed proud to fund Dr. Dulawa’s research (and if you are a donor, you too should be proud).  We will continue to report on this brilliant scientist’s breakthroughs.

[Photo credit: Tom Maday]

Watch Dr. Dulawa's talk at One Mind Institute's 2014 Music Festival for Brain Health:

"As a family member of someone living with schizoaffective disorder, I am proud to support One Mind Institute’s profoundly important work. One Mind Institute allows those touched in some way by psychiatric illness to take action and work toward solutions by helping to spur early stage research. One Mind Institute’s audacious mission to find a cure for psychiatric illness in one generation is what it will take to make meaningful progress, and holds the promise of changing millions of lives around the globe. "
"From the moment I found One Mind Institute and met the amazing Staglin family I knew that my advocacy would grow by leaps and bounds. Through their dedication and commitment I found a community of brilliant scientists, passionate philanthropists, music lovers and a new mental health family to call my own. I cherish the work One Mind Institute does every day to advance the research on brain disorders, to increase the awareness around mental illness and mental health and to create a community of love and support for advocates everywhere. I would not be the person I am today without the inspiration One Mind Institute has provided me."
"When I heard of the groundbreaking work the Staglins were doing through their organization One Mind Institute, such as research into preventing schizophrenia from ever occurring, I hoped to meet them. When I did I was amazed by their non-stop energy and complete devotion to the cause. But most of all, I was moved by their sincere desire to share ideas with people from all backgrounds and fields. As I continue to create films to inspire empathy for those with mental illness, I remain inspired by the Staglins and what One Mind Institute has done to transform mental health research and improve lives. "
"One Mind Institute is an organization equal parts compassion and science. A critical component of their work is advocacy and voice for millions of people who live with mental illnesses. Equally important is the incredible efforts they provide to further research in learning more about the brain and identifying effective treatments for brain diseases. One Mind Institute is a leader in the field of mental illness!"
"One Mind Institute, thank you again for funding CAPPS/ABBRC. Our daughter, Anna, participated in the program 2012-2013 and just received her final assessment. While this research helps others, know how much we appreciated participating with such genuinely dedicated people (very well selected to work with adolescents). It was very helpful for us as well, and provides us with even more hope. We're so impressed with the program."
"One Mind Institute has distinguished itself as a leader in the fight against brain disease. One Mind Institute’s vision of a world without mental illness seems beyond reach only to those who have not seen firsthand the intensity of One Mind Institute’s dedication and focus. These folks are not giving up until they’ve won. The Saks Institute is delighted to be One Mind Institute’s partner in the fight."
"Having struggled with schizophrenia since a young woman, I am deeply grateful for what One Mind Institute does. One Mind Institute’s unwavering commitment to support research is an inspiration to those of us who long for the day when a cure for serious mental illness is found. I think of One Mind Institute as a good friend and kindly mentor who has taken up my cause and fights for my mental health each and every day."
"The support of One Mind Institute has been absolutely essential to all of the psychosis prediction and prevention efforts of CAPPS and the NAPLS. On behalf of the patients and families who have received high quality clinical services in our program regardless of their ability to pay, and on behalf of the numerous dedicated members of our research and clinical treatment teams, I am so incredibly grateful for One Mind Institute’s generous contributions. On a personal note, it is very inspiring to see the huge gains made for mental health research and awareness over the past several years, which have been sparked in large part by the efforts of the Staglin family."

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