Research News Update – New View of Depression

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Owen M. Wolkowitz, M.D.
Owen M. Wolkowitz, M.D.
The Wall Street Journal reported on a ‘New View of Depression: An Ailment of the Entire Body’ this month featuring two NARSAD Grantees. The article discusses research results showing that depression and other mental illnesses including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often lead to earlier instances of age-related diseases such as stroke, dementia and heart disease.

Two-time NARSAD Grant recipient Owen M. Wolkowitz, M.D. is one of the researchers responsible for the work profiled. His second NARSAD Grant initiated studies of "Neuroendocrinology of depression and psychosis" and that research provided the background for the currently reported analysis.  The article consults with P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., of Duke University, whose NARSAD Grant-funded research focused on cerebral drug flow measurement in late life depression.  
Dr. Wolkowitz is a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco and his team of researchers are on a quest to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms that link physical and mental illnesses. "As we learn more ... we will begin to think less of depression as a 'mental illness' or even a 'brain disease,' but as a systematic illness," he said. Dr. Wolkowitz believes findings that uncover the links between physical and mental conditions will help the development of diagnostic tools and more effective treatments for many brain and behavior disorders.

In an effort to study accelerated aging on a cellular level, researchers are focusing on telomeres, a protective covering at the ends of chromosomes which have been recognized as playing an important role in aging. Researchers know that as people get older, telomeres get shorter and that shortened telomeres are linked to increased risk of disease and death. Other studies have shown that shortened telomeres are associated with depression, childhood trauma and other conditions. Dr. Doraiswamy, head of the division of biological psychiatry at Duke University, says that “The ‘holy grail’ of this area of work is to try to find the molecular mechanisms by which depression or stress take their toll on the body. Such information could help provide clues about how much of age-related disease is due to genetics versus life experience, and whether it can be reversed.”

In the progressive way that research works, future studies will be focused on determining how severe a psychological experience must be to affect telomere length and what can be done to prevent and/or effectively treat the condition.

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