By just giving a swab of your saliva and filling out a survey, you could help in the world’s largest genetic study on depression.
Mental illnesses have received more recognition from the media recently, with depression and anxiety being the most commonly discussed. Organisations such as Beyond Blue and headspace are fast becoming household names as they work tirelessly to raise awareness of mental illnesses, and the impact they have on everyday life.
But that’s just awareness. Australian scientists have now commenced the Australian Genetics of Depression Study, which is part of an international collaboration. It’s the world’s largest genetic study on depression, and is aiming to find and understand the genes that make people vulnerable to depression. This will hopefully result in better treatments for mental illnesses, and possibly even lead to a cure.
According to Australia’s lead investigator Professor Nick Martin from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, people who are diagnosed with clinical depression often have to try out multiple medications to find the one that suits them best. The standard drug doesn’t always work best for everyone.
“At the moment if somebody goes to their doctor with depression they get put on one of the standard drugs and it works for some people, but doesn’t work for a lot of them,” he told Hack.
Previous research on depression has found it can run in families who have a history of mental illnesses; it has also been linked to environmental factors in one’s life. However, this major study will be focusing on genetics as a means of discovering the best types of medication and treatments.
The study is currently seeking 20,000 Australians who have been diagnosed with clinical depression to participate and assist in its research. By understanding the structure of depression, scientists hope to address the complicated process of treatment and the resultant mixed-bag of medication and side effects.
“Bipolar depression is a great example of that because within that group you have people who do really well with anti-depressants and some people who do hopelessly and only have severe side-effects,” said co-investigator and mental health campaigner Professor Prof Ian Hickie, AM from the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney has said to AAP.
All volunteers will need to do is complete a 15-minute online survey and donate a saliva sample, that will then be screened for hundreds of DNA variants through a process known as “genome-wide association scans” (GWAS). This will allow for scientists to compare and detect similarities and differences in genetic codes to customise treatment.
“All the known medications that we’ve got are working on fairly limited knowledge of the biochemistry behind susceptibility to depression, so what GWAS does is lay bare all of the different pathways that are involved,” stated Professor Nick Martin, Head of the Genetic Epidemiology group at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.
But in order for this study to be successful, it needs a large sample of volunteers. Any contribution to this study will prove immensely helpful in combating depression.
Clinical depression impacts one in seven Australians throughout their life. It’s not just a low mood; it’s a crippling illness that affects your whole life. If you or anyone you know might need help, please contact one of these helplines below:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
- headspace on 1800 650 890
To volunteer for the study or learn more, head here: