Print this page

Sparking innovation and inspiring young investigators

Entrepreneur, Ann Arbor-area businessman and philanthropist Phil F. Jenkins has always been focused on results. In the early 1950s, Jenkins began transforming his family’s small business into a hugely successful global supplier of equipment for airports, municipalities, agriculture, and construction (Sweepster, Inc.). Philanthropy has become his way of life, and he uses his business acumen to steer his many and significant contributions toward what might be called “nimble opportunities”—that is, the people, institutions, and ideas that he perceives will have the greatest and most far-reaching impact.

Jenkins gives generously to the University of Michigan, the U-M Health System, and to numerous organizations across southeast Michigan. In part because of his own family’s experiences with depression— Jenkins’ late wife of 47 years, Lyn, struggled with the disease for many years—Jenkins has been actively involved in the Depression Center’s work since its inception. He has supported a major research fund and a professorship, and serves on the Depression Center’s National Advisory Board. He also made a key contribution toward the construction of the Rachel Upjohn Building, home of the Depression Center, where the lobby bears his name.

In 2011, Jenkins provided funds to establish an annual research award at the Depression Center to spur creative advances in the treatment or self-management of depression by empowering students and junior faculty to bring original ideas to life.

Danielle M. Novick, Ph.D.Danielle M. Novick, Ph.D., a U-M psychiatry research fellow and Depression Center member, is the recipient of the first Phil F. Jenkins Award for Innovation in Depression Treatment. With these research funds, Novick will identify ways that current technology might allow individuals to better monitor their moods, increase their treatment engagement and adherence, and also help guide mental health care providers in making more informed and personalized treatment decisions for their patients.

The Jenkins-funded project adds a powerful new dimension to Novick’s existing research that uses actigraphs —instruments that look like standard wristwatches—to measure a person’s daily physical activity and light exposure. This information can then be used to estimate some of the body’s biological rhythms. Because many effective treatments for depression and bipolar disorder are believed to work in part by shifting, re-setting, or stabilizing the body’s biological rhythms, understanding how these rhythmic changes are connected to mood and functioning is critical if we are to ensure that treatments are successful.

Each day for several months, actigraph-wearing research participants (recruited from the Prechter Bipolar Longitudinal study) will be prompted with a text message reminder to report their current mood using their cell phone. Integrating the text message information with actigraph data will provide “real-time” information about the relationship between an individual’s biological rhythms, daily routines, and mood.

“I am very grateful to Mr. Jenkins for this award. This will allow us to use technology to develop novel ways to help individuals with depression and bipolar disorder, and hopefully encourage them to take a more active role in the management of their illnesses,” Novick says.

Read more stories of impact.