Sam Emaminejad receives NARSAD grant for research on molecular biomarkers for depression

November 2, 2017

Congratulations to Sam Emaminejad, assistant professor in the Electrical Engineering department at UCLA, for receiving a NARSAD grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.  The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation recognizes scientists that are considered game-changers in the field of mental health research. In the past NARSAD grant recipients have gone on to shape the trajectory of mental health research. When asked to state the mission of his research group Professor Emaminejad described their efforts as designed to “develop [an] ecosystem of biosensors that continuously monitor us so that… we can infer the health status of people.” Specifically, his research group aspires to glean biomarkers at the molecular level – including information about electrolytes, metabolites and proteins – that may help quantify biomarkers relevant to an individual’s mental health status. Additionally, Professor Sam Emaminejad has been selected as the “P&S Fund Investigator” as part of the foundations’ Research Partners Program. Through this program Professor Emaminejad’s proposed research program will be supported by a designated anonymous donor.

With the funding from the Foundation, Emaminejad will measure a group of potential biomarkers that may be relevant to depression by utilizing his own sophisticated platform. His team will work to “establish the role of these biomarkers by looking into biomarkers that play an important role in regulating the nervous system.” The project will also involve longitudinal assessments of patients with depression to track how these biomarkers fluctuate over time and how these biomarker changes alter the course of disease.

Identifying molecular biomarkers for depression has the potential to enhance assessment methods and contribute to our understanding of the brain. Understanding the molecular biomarkers linked with depression may also increase the objectivity of diagnosis and treatment of depression. The platform offers the promise of enabling healthcare professionals to continuously monitor patients and predict the course of disease. Professor Emaminejad deems that this system is a “versatile platform” because once fully developed, it may be utilized in diagnosis and clinical studies to measure and identify molecular biomarkers for a range of diseases. Of note, the platform employs machine learning methodologies —enabling the system to analyze and apply information from larger participant groups, to better understand each individual’s profile and how it compares to a larger group of individuals. With a larger data set, the measurement becomes more objective enabling more accurate diagnoses.

Professor Emaminejad’s work is directly relevant to the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge (DGC) and he appreciates that the DGC unites like-minded scientists that fully recognize the complexity of a huge problem like depression and leverages its access to the UCLA Health System to strengthen its research power.  Professor Emaminejad is truly inspired by the DGC as he shared, the DGC “is a unique opportunity for engineers, doctors and clinicians… it is one of the main reasons that brought me to UCLA”.

Read more about Professor Emaminejad’s lab.

Additional coverage: 

Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Announces 30th Annual Young Investigator Grants Valued Over $13 Million to 196 Scientists Pursuing Innovative Mental Health Research Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Press Release, 02 Nov 2017

This article was written by UCLA Student/Depression Grand Challenge Student Worker, Emilia Szmyrgala.