If you’ve ever been treated for depression, your saliva sample and survey responses could help inform the world’s biggest genetic investigation into the illness.
The Australian Genetics of Depression Study has been launched as part of an international collaboration aiming to identify genes that predispose people to depression.
The results of the research will eventually help eliminate the guesswork involved in treatment, according to the country’s lead investigator Professor Nick Martin from the Q-I-M-R Berghofer Medical Research Institute.
“At the moment if somebody goes to their doctor with depression they get put on one of the standard drugs and it works for some people, but doesn’t work for a lot of them,” he told Hack.
Professor Martin said many need to experiment with different medications and struggle to find the right fit.
Previous research has identified particular genetic regions of DNA associated with depression and shown the illness can run in families.
While environmental factors also play a part, the aim of this research is to create more targeted treatment by using genetics to predict which medications will work for which people.
‘The biggest aid is volunteers’
To get the data they need, researchers require about 20,000 adult participants across Australia.
19-year-old Kayla Gonzalez is a forensic science student and musician from Victoria.
She has been treated for depression since she was 16 and was an early participant of the study.
Kayla told Hack research like this is crucial.
“My family – two to three generations back – has a history of either depression or bipolar….So for me, if I could do this study and I could have kids and be able to stop them from having to go through [depression] that is fantastic.”
She added she was lucky she didn’t have to mess around with meds too much, but saw her how laborious it was for her mother.
“Just having to go through that constant guess work can trigger so many more issues. I think if we can eradicate that mismatched part of it and figure out what works well for [individuals] it would have such a good impact,” she said.
She said it would also help prevent teen suicide.
Researchers have called for more people like Kayla to take part.
“We’re at a stage now of medicine where the biggest aid we can get is not even people giving us government money – although that’s necessary – it’s actually volunteers from the community who are willing to go a little bit out of their way to help medical research,” Professor Martin said.
The number of antidepressant subscriptions in Australia has increased massively over the past 10 years.
Professor Martin said the research will also look side effects of antidepressants, including how they impact libido.
“The idea would be to design to new drugs that are efficacious and that don’t come with these undesirable side effects,” he said.
“I would hope within 10 years we’re seeing the fruits of this in new medications.”