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Scientists work towards depression diagnostic

Scientists at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute are using cutting-edge imaging and information technology to develop a diagnostic test for major depressive disorders (MDD).

At least one in five Australians will experience major depression at some time in their life, impacting on their family, friends and the broader community.

Coordinator of QIMR Berghofer’s Mental Health Group, Professor Michael Breakspear said there are currently no tests for MDD, the leading cause of disability in Australia and a major risk factor for suicide.

“Developing a diagnostic tool would also allow clinicians to more accurately categorise patients as suffering a particular mental illness – such as melancholia, major depression, generalised anxiety or bipolar disorder,” Professor Breakspear said.

“This would improve the effectiveness of treatment and patient management programs.”

Professor Breakspear said the research would involve hundreds of patients with MDD undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they watched happy and sad movies.

“These scans measure brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow associated with neural activity,” Professor Breakspear said.

“The images taken would indicate which regions or networks within the brain are not working in the same way as in those people not suffering from MDD.”

Professor Breakspear said this imaging could allow researchers to understand how the brain regulates emotion and responds to stimuli.

“It would also contribute to improved treatment for patients requiring physical therapy for severe depression, by identifying which areas of the brain should be targeted,” he said.

“The project involves safe and non-invasive processes which could make an enormous difference to the lives of those suffering mental illness along with their family and friends.”

Brisbane brothers Dylan and Lawson Reid are fundraising for the project with a round-the-world motorcycling odyssey in memory of their sister Heidi, who succumbed to depression at the age of 27.

‘Brothers Reid’ started the first leg of their two year project from QIMR Berghofer in Brisbane this morning.

Their first major stop will be Darwin, where they will load their bikes for shipping to Dili, East Timor.

Anyone interested can follow their trip or donate at