New study uses DNA to determine treatment program for major depression

01 Mar 2016
New study uses DNA to determine treatment program for major depression

In a development that could transform the current ‘trial and error’ system of medicating for depression, the Mind and Brain Theme is seeking 2,000 participants to explore the different types of depression from a psychobiological perspective, examine their DNA and – for the first time – learn which medication works best for which genetic make-up. 

If successful, the new individualised treatments would save millions of people months and sometimes even years of additional stress and suffering as they struggle to find the right medication for them. 

Instead, their GP would take a blood sample, run a simple test, and provide them with the medication best suited to their own DNA – all within 24 hours. 

Professor Ma-Li Wong, Head, Pharmacogenomics Research Program within the Mind and Brain Theme at SAHMRI and Strategic Professor in Psychiatry at Flinders University, who will head this study, said it will use genetics to help understand the causes of major depression. 

“We will use the latest genome sequencing technology to examine the links between the symptoms of depression and an individual’s genes,” Professor Wong said. 

“With more than 14 per cent of Australians suffering from major depression, this is something that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. 

“We are asking participants to donate a sample of their blood or saliva and hair for testing, and to agree to provide us with some information about them and their family. 

“This study is a first of its kind, and will use the genetic variants that appear in the results, to match them with specific types of depression, and if we can better understand the cause of depression we may be able to lessen its future impact. 

“With 22 antidepressants covered by the pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS), often depression patients have to try several antidepressants before they find the one that works best for them. This trial involves a 3-4 hour interview to determine the type, frequency, and depth of depression the individual is experiencing." 

“We are seeking two groups of people to participate in this study – healthy people who do not have any serious medical or mental health problems and people who have been told by their doctors that they have experienced major depression in their lifetime, but who are otherwise relatively healthy.” 

Dr Michael Musker, Bellberry Research Fellow at SAHMRI, said that the objective of this research is to develop better treatment outcomes for people who experience depression. 

“In order to achieve this, we need to discover the location of the genetic code that causes different types of depression. Comparing two large groups of genetic samples, will get us ever closer to this goal,” Dr Musker said. 

To learn more, or to register to participate in this project, please get in touch.

This study is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).