The Australian arm to a huge international study into the genetics of depression is on its way to recruiting 20,000 participants to try to crack the genetic code to depression.
The interim data released today has shown that more than two-thirds of Australian study participants have tried at least two antidepressants to treat their clinical depression, essentially using trial and error to determine which medication is most appropriate for them. One of the major challenges facing the mental health arena is the lack of personalisation for antidepressant medications.
Published in MJA InSight today (August 21, 2017), the study has revealed that we’ve reached the limit of our current knowledge of treating clinical depression, and require genetic profiling and targeted approaches to gain effective ground for treating depression.
Today a number of key players have joined forces to bring this study and story to light, including Research author, Study Co-Investigator and Co-Director for Health and Policy, Brain and Mind Centre, The University of Sydney, Professor Ian Hickie AM, study participants and high profile Australian mental health advocates, including Osher Günsberg, Dan Hunt, Julie McDonald and Mitch Wallis, to call for the enrolment of a further 10,000 participants.
“We require a total of 20,000 Australian study volunteers aged 18 and over, who are undergoing, or have been treated for clinical depression,” said Professor Hickie.
“In just over three months, we’ve enrolled 10,000 Australians into our transformative study. This remarkable response demonstrates the general public’s willingness to partner with the research community, through the sharing of personal experiences digitally, to advance scientific understanding into clinical depression.
“Our interim data reveals better targeting of existing treatments through individual genetic profiling before commencing medication, would drive a major advance in clinical therapy.”
Alarmingly, mental illness represents the top cause of non-fatal disability in Australia. Moreover, our nation has one of the highest antidepressant prescribing rates per head of all OECD countries.
TV and radio personality and Director of SANE Australia, Osher Günsberg, Sydney, is no stranger to mental illness. He battles social anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), has lived with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and harbours a family history of mental illness. Over time, Osher’s doctors have worked hard to fine-tune his medication, so that the benefits outweigh the associated side-effects.
“It took quite a long time, meeting with lots of different doctors, and trialling multiple different medications and listening to different hypotheses about my illness, before we found a treatment that worked for me,” Günsberg said.
Genetics is absolutely key to solving clinical depression, according to geneticist, Professor Nick Martin, Lead Study Investigator and Head of the Genetic Epidemiology Laboratory, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.
“The link between genetics and clinical depression is very clear. Approximately 20,000 genes make up the human genome. Alterations in some genes cause clinical depression. But right now, we don’t know what they are. What we do know, however, is how to find them. We just need a large enough study, performed the right way, to identify them,” said Professor Martin.
“Our ground-breaking research should allow us to identify between 50-to-100 genes that influence a person’s risk of developing clinical depression. Only then, through cracking the genetic code of clinical depression, will we be able to develop new, and more effective, personalised treatments that target the problem directly.”
Participating in the Australian Genetics of Depression Study is simple and free. Volunteers complete a 15-minute online survey, and, depending upon their responses, may be asked to donate a saliva sample. Study researchers will then analyse the saliva (DNA) samples to investigate and pinpoint specific genes that may be associated with clinical depression.
You can volunteer to take part in the Australian Genetics of Depression Study, or to learn more, visit: www.geneticsofdepression.org.au