Print this page

Berman Research Fund Awards

The Berman Research Fund supports junior investigators seeking pilot or seed funding for innovative research projects in the area of depressive illness.  The fund is intended to promote innovation by allowing researchers to take risks to explore new areas of research, and to help investigators obtain preliminary results that will assist them in obtaining funding from government and other sources.  The funded projects may be in neurobiologic research, psychosocial research, genetics, neuroimaging, or similar fields.  The Bermans, U-M alumni and staunch supporters of the U-M Medical School, established the research fund in 2005 in recognition of Barbara’s parents’ lifelong devotion to the field of mental health.

2016 Todd Herron
Cardiovascular Disease in Bipolar Disorder Patients: Patient specific disease modeling and medication testing
2014 Maria Muzik
Mindfulness Yoga as Complimentary or Alternative Intervention for Depression in Women undergoing Breast Cancer Treatments
2013 Deirdre Conroy
A novel sleep strategy to augment depression treatment in adolescents
2011, 2010 Michelle Kees and Nansook Park
Risk, Resilience, and Mental Health In Soldiers and Spouses before Military Employment
2008 Sara Wright
The Role of Cognitive and Affective Variables in Explaining Increased Risk of Falls among Patients with Geriatric Depression
2005 Sheila Marcus and Heather Flynn
Sleep and Biological Rhythms in Infants of Depressed Mothers



Todd Herron, Ph.D.
Cardiovascular Disease in Bipolar Disorder Patients: Patient specific disease modeling and medication testing (2016)

Bipolar patients experience elevated cardiovascular mortality rate, yet the connection between this psychiatric disorder and cardiovascular health is unclear. New evidence suggests that genetic abnormalities of the calcium channel gene may contribute to neuronal dysfunction observed in patients with bipolar depression. Interestingly, the same calcium channel gene is also expressed in the heart of bipolar patients. The calcium channel gene is crucial for proper cardiac function and genetic abnormalities can lead to cardiac dysfunction and arrhythmias.

Using patient specific induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) we can generate an unlimited supply of bipolar patient specific neurons and cardiomyocytes that can be used for in vitro testing. In this project we will study calcium channel gene expression and function in neurons and cardiomyocytes derived from the same patient. This offers an unprecedented patient specific examination of neuronal and cardiac function. Furthermore we will test a panel of anti-psychotic medications in these in vitro neurons and cardiomyocytes to create an in vitro diagnostic tool that will provide mechanistic and personalized basis for drug therapy decisions.

Back to Top



Maria Muzik, MD, MS
Mindfulness Yoga as Complimentary or Alternative Intervention for Depression in Women undergoing Breast Cancer Treatments (2014)

Depression is a significant problem among all cancer patients, especially during the year following diagnosis. Women are especially vulnerable, and nearly 25 percent of breast cancer patients meet criteria for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Unfortunately, up to 75 percent of patients are neither assessed nor receive adequate treatment for MDD. Traditional remedies for depression, such as medication and psychotherapy, are effective, but frequently under-utilized during cancer treatment due to focus on physical health or stigma. Complimentary or alternative approaches to depression treatment such as yoga and mindfulness practice, defined as being fully present in the moment with simple awareness of one’s body and thoughts, have shown preliminary benefits for depression among cancer patients, and thus could be widely implemented.

However, research on yoga for depression in breast cancer survivor women, particularly those on endocrine therapies is limited. We therefore propose to develop a mindfulness yoga program for this patient group of depressed breast cancer women undergoing cancer treatment, and pilot test feasibility, uptake, satisfaction, and preliminary efficacy to improve depression. Our central hypothesis is that mindfulness yoga will improve depressive symptoms in pre/perimenopausal women with depressed mood undergoing breast cancer treatment who have completed chemotherapy and are followed in clinic.

Back to Top



Deirdre Conroy, Ph.D.
A novel sleep strategy to augment depression treatment in adolescents (2013)

This study seeks to test the effectiveness of novel strategies designed to help teenagers sleep better while also considering their unique physiological and psychological needs. The overall goal of the project is to improve sleep to reduce the risk of recurrence and relapse to depression in teens. The study will compare the effectiveness of a novel sleep strategy on depression symptoms severity in depressed adolescents. The novel sleep strategy, a time management plus nightly evening exposure to light in the orange red spectrum (above 600 nanometers), will be compared to a wait list control condition. The hypothesis is that depressed adolescents will experience greater improvements in their mood in the sleep condition compared to a waitlist control condition. The study will lay the groundwork for future large scale studies involving collaborations with mental health care workers and public health experts.

Back to Top


Michelle Kees, Ph.D.
Nansook Park, Ph.D.
Risk, Resilience, and Mental Health in Solders and Spouses before Military Deployment (2011, 2010)

Identifying and addressing the needs of military families sooner may better prepare them for deployment and provide critically timed prevention strategies to minimize adverse outcomes during and following deployment.  Services are clearly needed for soldiers and families post-deployment; however, there is a window of opportunity before deployment that is largely ignored. This project seeks to build knowledge about the mental health and adjustment of National Guard soldiers and their spouses prior to an impending military deployment.  The study aims to characterize current mental health status and risk and resilience factors in the population, and to help fill a gap in available data about pre-deployment data, particularly with spouses.  Ultimately, the project hopes to highlight areas to target for intervention prior to and during deployment and establish the first step in prospectively evaluating long-term adjustment and the impact of deployment experiences on mental health in soldiers and their spouses.  This research has also received support from the Rachel Upjohn Clinical Scholar Awards Fund.

Back to Top


Sara Wright, Ph.D.
The Role of Cognitive and Affective Variables in Explaining Increased Risk of Falls among Patients with Geriatric Depression (2008)

The ultimate aim of this study is to better understand the relationship between depression and fall risk, a link that has been detected in larger clinical studies. Identifying specific factors underlying this relationship will lead to the development of more effective treatment strategies for reducing the risk of falling among older adults. Dr. Wright’s project investigates differences in cognitive functioning, dual-tasking (i.e., simultaneously walking and performing a cognitive task), mobility (e.g., balance, gait speed), balance self-efficacy, and cerebral white matter pathology between older adults with and without Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) who have impaired balance or recent history of falls.

Data collection includes MRI scans to better understand how white matter pathology may relate to symptom presentation. The research will be of value in informing the chemoarchitecture of treatments to protect and enhance underlying neural circuits and in improving prediction of the course of depression among older adults. Data gathered through this award were included in the application that led to Dr. Wright’s five-year VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Level-2 Career Development Award.

Back to Top


Sheila Marcus, Ph.D.
Heather Flynn, Ph.D.
Sleep and Biological Rhythms in Infants of Depressed Mothers (2005)

This research evaluated whether the initial entrainment of sleep and circadian rhythms was abnormal in infants born to depressed mothers compared to infants with no family history of depression. The study measured infant sleep, circadian rhythms, and light exposure monthly for eight months and found that infants with depressed mothers had worse nocturnal sleep (longer sleep latency, more awakenings, less sleep at night) and poorly entrained circadian rhythms compared to infants whose mothers were not depressed. In addition, sleep and circadian strength did not reach normal levels even at eight months post-partum.

This work suggests that the biological risks for depression may already be evident in early infancy and that strategies to reduce risk of depression should also be targeted toward infants and very young children. The research team is designing an enriched sleep-friendly nursery environment to determine if sleep and circadian entrainment can be improved in those infants of depressed mothers. In addition to potentially improving outcomes in children, improving sleep disturbances in infants will also likely reduce the risk of post-partum depression in mothers.

Back to Top