Clinical depression is a common mental illness, often referred to simply as depression, characterised by persistent feelings of sadness or loss of interest in things that have previously been pleasurable. It affects 1 in 5 Australians in their lifetime and is predicted by the World Health Organisation to be the second leading burden of disease in Australia and other developed nations by 2020 .
A substantial part of the risk to depression is conferred by genetic factors. A person who has a parent or sibling who has experienced depression is at increased risk. Due to the complexity of the illness, studies aiming to identify genetic risk factors require very large numbers of participants. Professor Naomi Wray from PCTG has played a leading role in an international study from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium that included more than 150,000 participants and successfully identified more than 40 genes that contribute to risk of depression. This work has helped highlight biological pathways linked to the illness and will hopefully lead to new treatments.
The genetic factors identified to date represent only a fraction of the overall genetic contribution to depression. Larger studies are needed to help us understand the nature of the illness and to understand why some people respond to clinical treatments, but others don’t. To this end, The Australian Genetics of Depression Study was established with the aim of recruiting more than 20,000 Australians who have been diagnosed with depression. This is a collaboration between a team of geneticists and psychiatrists from the University of Queensland, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, the University of Sydney and the University of Adelaide. Anyone who has experienced depression is encouraged to enrol in the study and take the online questionnaire. Those that qualify will be sent a DNA spit kit and asked to provide a DNA sample.
Participation in this study will greatly help us in our aim to understand the biological underpinnings of depression and to move closer to the goal of personalised medicine in psychiatry, where treatments will be tailored to those with specific genetic profiles.