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$2M gift to U-M Depression Center will fund professorship and research on depression’s roots in brain chemistry


Ann Arbor businessman Phil Jenkins adds to previous $2 million gift that has helped build the Center’s new home, which will open this fall

August 30, 2006 - ANN ARBOR, MI – An Ann Arbor businessman who watched his wife struggle with depression has given $2 million to support the research of a University of Michigan Depression Center scientist whose work may help explain the disease’s roots in the brain.

Jon-Kar Zubieta, M.D., Ph.D.The gift adds to the $2 million previously given by the same donor for a new building that will open this fall to house the Center and other U-M mental health programs.

Phil Jenkins, who grew his family’s farm-equipment firm into a national leader in the manufacturing of construction and airport runway sweepers, will be recognized today for all his gifts to the U-M Depression Center, at the center’s monthly symposium.

He will also meet with Jon-Kar Zubieta, M.D., Ph.D., the scientist who has been chosen as the first Phil F. Jenkins Research Professor of Depression in the U-M Department of Psychiatry. The new gift supports the endowment of the professorship, and establishes a research fund for Zubieta’s use in studying brain chemistry and genetics related to depression and bipolar disorder.

“We’re truly thankful to Phil for his continued support and belief in our center’s vision, He’s looking to us to lay the groundwork for better diagnostic tools and tailored treatments for depression, based on individual genetic and brain-function profiles,” says John Greden, M.D., executive director of the center and chair of the U-M Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry. “Jon-Kar is a truly deserving recipient of this honor, for his many contributions to understanding the neurobiology of stress responses, and application of this knowledge to mood disorders such as depression.”

Says Jenkins, “The reason I gave this money, and my previous gifts, is I want to be broke when I die — and I want to see the results of my gifts. I just like to watch someone like Jon-Kar work, and while the building is important, what makes things happen is the people who will work inside it.”

Mr. Jenkins, a longstanding member of the Depression Center’s National Advisory Board and founder of Sweepster, Inc., has also given $2 million toward the building of the Rachel Upjohn Building. The building will open this October on the east medical campus of the U-M Health System, and will house not only the Depression Center but also adult and child outpatient psychiatry clinics, and substance abuse outpatient clinics and researchers.

In addition to the Jenkins professorship, Zubieta will continue to hold titles as associate professor of psychiatry and of radiology, and as a research associate professor in the U-M Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute.

Zubieta is widely recognized as a leader in brain imaging for psychiatry and neuroscience, using techniques called PET, fMRI and SPECT to quantify brain metabolism, blood flow and the activation of receptors for different types of chemicals that allow brain cells to communicate.

He and his colleagues have published dozens of research articles in the top journals of the field, and he is a sought-after speaker nationally and internationally. Most recently, his team has published findings about the brain’s response to pain and stress, and to placebo treatments for pain – including a paper that was named one of 2005’s top 100 scientific discoveries by Discover magazine.

A member of the Medical School faculty since 1995, Zubieta is also a U-M alumnus, having completed his psychiatry residency and nuclear medicine fellowship at U-M after receiving both his M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of the Basque Country Medical School in Spain. He also received nuclear medicine training at the Johns Hopkins University.

His research interests closely match the purpose that Jenkins set out for the professorship and research fund, including the use of genetics, brain imaging and molecular neuroscience to advance the understanding of the causes of depression and bipolar disorder, and to seek new and more effective treatments.

“Phil knows all too well the impact of depression on an individual and a family, and the stigma associated with depression, because of his wife’s struggle with the condition before her death in 1999,” says Greden.

Jenkins was a young engineer working for Caterpillar Tractor in 1949 when he got a call summoning him home to Dexter, Mich., to take over the family farm equipment business. Once home, a call from an old classmate — an automobile dealer — changed everything.

Jenkins recalls, “He mentioned that if he just had a sweeper on the front of his Jeep, he could sell a hundred of them.” So, Jenkins and his shop manager, Jim Klaperich, spent a weekend fashioning such a vehicle, and Sweepster was born. A half-century later, Sweepster, Inc., manufactures attachment, walk-behind, self-propelled and airport runway sweepers for all types of equipment used in airports, municipalities, agriculture and construction around the globe.

Jenkins is all too familiar with the toll the disease takes on people. “I see depression everywhere,” he says. “It’s an insidious thing we really don’t recognize. One problem is that we don’t admit that we have it - it carries a stigma, and we have to get over that.” In fact, he says, Americans should get to the point where they talk about depression, and having depression, just like they talk about arthritis.

Part of his motivation for giving a gift for a professorship bearing his name, says Jenkins, is to encourage others whose lives have been touched by depression to give to the U-M Depression Center as well. “I used to give anonymously, but now give under my name,” he says. “I want others to say, ‘If he does it I’ll do it.’”

In addition to his gifts to the Depression Center, Mr. Jenkins has also supported several other areas of the University’s Health System, including the Department of Urology, as well as non-profit organizations such as the Neutral Zone teen center and the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.

The U-MDepressionCenter took its first step toward advancing treatment, research and education of depression in 2001, when the U-M Regents established it as the nation’s first comprehensive center devoted to depressive illnesses. Modeled after successful cancer and cardiovascular centers, the UMDC aims to improve research, care and public policy on depression and related illnesses. Dozens of clinicians, researchers and others from around the U-M are members of the Center. For more on the Center, and the RachelUpjohnBuilding, visit

To read about Mr. Jenkins’ previous gifts to the Depression Center and other areas of U-M, read this article from a 2004 issue of Medicine at Michigan magazine.

Written by Kara Gavin


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