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Mobility Fellowship will allow Denise Happ to complete her PhD at UPEI and Denmark

Charlottetown, PEI (June 7, 2016)—Denise Happ, a master’s student at UPEI’s Atlantic Veterinary College, has been awarded a prestigious and highly competitive fellowship from Denmark’s Aarhus University (AU). The Mobility Fellowship from AU Graduate School of Health provides three years of support to complete a PhD jointly between AU and UPEI. Happ will work under the co-supervision of AU’s Dr. Gregers Wegener and Dr. Andrew Tasker, a professor of neuropharmacology at UPEI.


Happ’s graduate research project is entitled, “Interactions between Nicotinergic and Serotonergic Systems in Major Depression and Anxiety: implications for antidepressant non-responders.” She will use powerful technology to better understand why certain anti-depressant drugs take several weeks to become effective, and in many cases, aren’t effective at all.


“I am very honoured to have been awarded this fellowship from Aarhus University,” said Denise Happ. “This is an exciting opportunity to further my studies and the collaborative nature of the project allows me to draw on the expertise from researchers at both UPEI and AU. I hope my research will be able to elucidate some of the mechanisms underlying depression.”


Depression is a common mental health problem affecting the lives of many individuals with severe consequences for society. Although numerous antidepressants are on the market, they typically require weeks of therapy to become effective, and about 30-50 per cent of patients fail to show a substantial clinical response to conventional antidepressant therapy. 


While the exact mechanisms causing depression are still poorly understood, the body’s inability to regulate a chemical called serotonin plays a major role. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase extracellular serotonin concentrations, but although SSRIs have an immediate effect on serotonin levels, the therapeutic response can take several weeks and some patients never do respond to these drugs.  This suggests that other systems are also involved in the action of SSRIs.

Happ’s project will use specialized animal models of depression, combined with powerful technologies for live imaging of brain function and molecular analysis of chemical interactions in the brain, to try to better understand the biological basis of depression and the actions of SSRIs.


“Denise is an exceptional student, and I am delighted that AU has given her this opportunity to advance her career in both Denmark and PEI,” said Dr. Andrew Tasker. “I have every confidence that her work will contribute significantly to our understanding and treatment of this devastating disorder.”


“Congratulations to Ms. Happ and Dr. Tasker for securing this major award, which recognizes Ms. Happ’s outstanding work as a Master’s student and her promise as a researcher, as well as Dr. Tasker’s long and productive history in identifying the underlying biochemical mechanisms for neurological diseases and their treatment. The collaboration between UPEI and Aarhus University promises to provide important insights into depression and anxiety that might not emerge from either institution alone,” said Dr. Robert Gilmour, vice-president academic and research at UPEI.


The University of Prince Edward Island prides itself on people, excellence, and impact and is committed to assisting students reach their full potential in both the classroom and community. With roots stemming from two founding institutions—Prince of Wales College and Saint Dunstan’s University—UPEI has a reputation for academic excellence, research innovation, and creating positive impacts locally, nationally, and internationally. UPEI is the only degree granting institution in the province and is proud to be a key contributor to the growth and prosperity of Prince Edward Island.