World’s largest study of depression offers new hope

The world’s largest study of depression has revealed 23 genes linked to a person’s risk of developing depression – paving the way for more tailored and effective treatments, according to research by QIMR Berghofer.

The researchers used data collected from more than 20,000 people who participated in the Australian Genetics of Depression Study to identify the new risk variants.

QIMR Berghofer lead researcher Dr Brittany Mitchell said the findings significantly advance our understanding of the role genes play in depression.

“We examined the DNA of people with and without depression and found that these genetic markers are far more common in those with depression. In fact, people with the highest number of these genetic markers were 6.5 times more likely to have major depression.”

The researchers also discovered unique genetic profiles were linked to the development of particular depression subtypes, such as seasonal affective disorder, postpartum depression and atypical depression.

“These unique genetic risk profiles appear to make people more susceptible to particular types of depression, or certain features such as symptoms, age of onset and recurrence.”

“It makes our study the first of this size to not only show such a significant link between genetics and overall depression risk, but also the existence of actual biological differences impacting these various characteristics or subtypes of depression,” Dr Mitchell said.

Senior researcher Dr Enda Byrne, a statistical geneticist based at The University of Queensland, said the study showed depression wasn’t a uniform problem with a one-size-fits-all answer.

“This can potentially translate to a substantial advancement in how we treat depression. When you have insight into the genetic basis of a condition, you can develop much more effective treatments. For people with depression, it is so important to have earlier and more effective treatments available,” Dr Byrne said.

“This research could one day allow for future gene-mapping technology to deliver a more personalised and targeted treatment plan and potentially assist in developing new drug treatments or a re-purposing of current drugs for better outcomes,” Dr Byrne said.

The study has been published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

The Australian Genetics of Depression Study is the local arm of an international scientific collaboration aiming to identify genetic risk factors associated with depression. It receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

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April’s story

April is proud of her work as a veterinary nurse

Mother of three April, has lived with depression and anxiety since a life-changing event when she was in her early twenties.

Diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder several years ago, the 45-year-old has experienced debilitating panic attacks. “I became quite depressed – there have been times when I’ve felt I’m not good enough for life,” April said.

The past few years have been better for April, who is now a veterinary nurse. She said this has been a great source of pride and achievement. Despite this, she is aware of the impact her illness has had on her children.

“I was hospitalised when my oldest daughter was in year 12. It was pretty traumatic for them, but I also know it wasn’t my fault, it was an illness and I had to reach out and get help,” she said.

April understands she’s not alone in her experience, that depression is widespread in Australia. According to The Australian Government Department of Health, depression is an illness affecting about one in every 15 adults.

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