Research Therapies — 25 August 2017

Scientists are calling for 10,000 more volunteers to be part of the world’s biggest study on the genetics of depression so that more effective treatments can be developed to help sufferers.

The Australian Genetics of Depression Study is seeking 10,000 more participants to help crack the genetic code for more effective treatments. (Vetta:)

The Australian Genetics of Depression Study is seeking 10,000 more participants to help crack the genetic code for more effective treatments. (Vetta:)

Currently, two thirds of Australian study participants have had to juggle multiple anti-depressants to treat their clinical depression, according to interim data from the Australian Genetics and Depression Study.

Research author Professor Ian Hickie, from the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney, said genetic profiling was the key to solving clinical depression.

“We’ll likely be able to crack the code here of what genetic signals predict the best response to treatment,” he said.

More than 75 per cent of people taking anti-depressants showed improvement, according to the study, which has already surveyed more than 13,000 people.

“But the downside is that about 50 per cent are experiencing severe side effects, and many of those people who’ve benefitted have had to take more than one drug in order to get that benefit,” Professor Hickie said.

“So we’ve seen both the benefits and the real-world reality of the difficulties involved in taking the common anti-depressant medicines,” he said.

“Our knowledge of depression, our scientific knowledge has reached its end useful point. We really need better knowledge to have more personalised treatments.

“We’ve got to have a better way of predicting who will actually get the maximum benefit, as distinct from who will experience side effects.

“Its great that 13,000 people have participated in this study. What we really need is over 20,000 people to give us this sort of information with their experiences of treatment, but also provide a saliva sample so we can test the genetics.

“The way forward in mental health is just like in cancer and infectious diseases, where we can personalise the treatment if we can get the genetics signal right — so to be able to predict at the time that the doctor writes the script what’s the chance that you, specifically, will benefit and get relief from your symptoms, as distinct from experiencing intolerable side effects.

Professor Hickie said those who participated would help future generations get better treatment for mental illness.

“We know that depression runs strongly in families… so if this has happened to you, if it’s happened in your family, if you’re concerned about the future generations, this is a really good way to help solve the puzzle.”

Anyone over the age of 18 who has been treated for clinic depression is encouraged to participate in the study.

Professor Hickie said the details can be found at www.geneticsofdepression.org.au.

Participants fill in an online questionnaire and will be sent a saliva kit to provide a sample.

“With 20,000 people, you get the numbers that are actually able to take us really forward, and what’s been great here is that over 13,000 Australians have already participated in this study that only got up and going this year,” Professor Hickie said.

“If we are able to proceed at this kind of pace, then it’s likely that within two years we’ll have sufficient information to be able to start making these predictions about accurate response to treatment and avoiding intolerable side effects.”

This piece by Justine Kearney and Ryan Quinn was first seen on ‘ABC News’ August 21 2017.

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