Scientists seeking Canberran volunteers for groundbreaking genetics of depression study

Australian scientists are calling for Canberran adults who have been treated for clinical depression, to volunteer for the world’s largest and most rigorous genetic investigation into the illness to date. 

The Australian Genetics of Depression Study is the local arm of a groundbreaking international scientific collaboration designed to detect genetic factors that contribute to clinical depression, in order to develop better treatments, and ultimately, find a cure.

One-in-seven Australians will experience clinical depression (commonly known as depression) during their lifetime.1 Clinical depression is the third most burdensome of all diseases in Australia (13.3 per cent).1 It is a complex illness that often occurs in families, and is typically caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences.1

According to Professor Nick Martin, lead Australian study investigator and Head of the Genetic Epidemiology group, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane, researchers are seeking 20,000 Australian male and female volunteers aged 18 and above, who are currently being treated, or have been treated in the past for clinical depression, to shed light on the genes that predispose people to clinical depression, with the ultimate aim of developing new treatments.

“We are aiming to identify genetic factors that influence why various treatments for clinical depression are successful for some people, but not for others.

“Identification of the genes that predispose people to clinical depression could revolutionise future research into causes, treatment and prevention of the illness,” Prof Martin said.

Prof Ian Hickie, AM, Co-Investigator and Co-Director for Health and Policy at Brain and Mind Centre, The University of Sydney, said “we now understand from modern neuroscience, brain imaging, brain scans and other studies, that the brain changes during clinical depression. What we don’t understand however, are the genetic causes in brain development that put you at risk of developing clinical depression.

“That’s why we need Australian adults who have, or are continuing to be treated for clinical depression by a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist, and understand how disabling and potentially life-threatening this illness can be, to help us find the genetic causes.

“Participating in this groundbreaking study is free and easy. Volunteers simply complete a 15 minute online survey, and, depending on their responses, may be asked to donate a saliva sample,” said Prof Hickie.

“Study volunteers will be making a genuine contribution to better understanding, and helping us to solve this devastating illness.”

Study researchers will analyse saliva (DNA) samples to investigate and identify specific genes that may be associated with clinical depression, through a process known as ‘genome-wide association scans’ (GWAS). GWAS will allow researchers to look for genetic similarities and differences, which will help them to understand why some people experience clinical depression, while others do not, and why some people living with clinical depression respond to certain treatments, while others do not.

To volunteer for the Australian Genetics of Depression Study, or to learn more, head to:



Free-call: 1800 257 179.

The Australian Genetics of Depression Study is being conducted internationally, with 200,000 participant samples required. Australia is aiming to contribute 10 per cent of the total study participants.

“We are aiming to recruit 20,000 Australian participants to the study, which would make up 10 per cent of the international requirement, within the next two years and may even increase this number depending on community support for this groundbreaking research initiative. 

“Finding genes associated with depression will help identify the causal biochemical pathways, and open new therapeutic opportunities to treat the illness,” Prof Martin said.

“Furthermore, identifying which genes determine effectiveness, or side-effects of common anti-depressants can help doctors decide which treatment to prescribe for each patient.”

Clinical depression is a serious illness that affects physical and mental health.2 It is characterised by regular and intense feelings of sadness, moodiness or feeling low, and may last for long periods of time (weeks, months or even years), often with little or no identifiable reason.2 Clinical depression severely affects the way people feel, think and react to general daily activities, such as eating, sleeping or working.3 By 2020, clinical depression is predicted to impose the second leading cause of world disability, and by 2030, is expected to be the largest contributor to disease burden.4

In 2007, Jennifer, then aged 22, Canberra, was studying at university when she experienced her first episode of depression.

Jennifer began to withdraw from her studies and friends. She had trouble sleeping, and was often unable to get out of bed.

“I often think about what triggered my initial episode of depression, but can’t quite put my finger on it. I was at uni at the time, but nothing else had really changed in my life. My depression came out of the blue. I began to really struggle with my studies, and withdrew from my friends,” said Jennifer.

Six years later, in 2013, aged 28, Jennifer gave birth to her second child. Following the birth, Jennifer started to experience symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as post-natal depression.

“I was very angry at my husband and children. I felt like I wasn’t a good mother – like I was letting them down. I had really damaging thoughts that they would be better off without me.”

Jennifer is participating in the Australian Genetics of Depression Study and genuinely hopes her contribution will allow experts to unravel more answers to help combat depression.

“I definitely think there’s a genetic component to depression. My father has lived with depression my entire life, and my mother has experienced depressive episodes. Both of my grandmothers also lived with depression. This study could help find ways to prevent the onset of depression,” Jennifer said.

Study logistics

Those who qualify for the DNA phase of the study will be contacted by the QIMR Berghofer research team to confirm their willingness to provide a saliva sample. Next, they will receive a DNA collection and information pack by mail, and will be asked to provide a saliva sample. Participants will then be asked to return this sample to QIMR Berghofer using a supplied, pre-paid and pre-addressed courier bag via Australia Post.

Participant DNA samples will be bio-banked for immediate and future genetic analysis under strict confidentiality and within Commonwealth privacy and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines.

About the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (QIMR Berghofer)

QIMR Berghofer is a world-leading translational research institute specialising in cancer, infectious diseases, mental health and a range of complex diseases. Working in close collaboration with clinicians and other research institutes, QIMR Berghofer aims to improve health by developing new diagnostics, better treatments and prevention strategies. For more information on QIMR, head to QIMR Berghofer recognises the NHMRS for its involvement in coordinating this research study.