Scientists seeking SA volunteers for groundbreaking genetics of depression study

Australian scientists are calling for South Australian 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: Web:
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.

According to Professor Julio Licinio, Co-Lead Investigator, Australian Genetics of Depression Study; Head, Mind & Brain Theme, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute & Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia will be one of the largest contributors to the worldwide study.

“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. We 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 Licinio 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

At 21, Catherine, now 38, Adelaide, got engaged and landed the perfect job. On paper, her life seemed to be going well. But in reality, her life felt otherwise. After “feeling down” for a long period of time, Catherine’s GP referred her to a psychiatrist, who prescribed her anti-depressant medication and weekly visits.

“I had been battling for a few years, and putting on a happy mask, pretending things were normal. But in reality, life felt pretty bad. I wouldn’t let myself, let alone anyone else, see how depressed I really was,” said Catherine.

The effects of depression prevented Catherine from achieving her goals, due to fear of failure, and lack of energy. She also felt discrimination from her depression at work, which prevented her from seeking new career opportunities.

“At the time of my diagnosis, my then employer was accommodating with my medical appointments. But when it came to applying for promotions at work, I wasn’t considered, for they were concerned that I would get too stressed out.”

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

“It’s a brilliant study. I completed a genetics degree before becoming a teacher, and think there is likely a genetic component to depression. The more researchers are able to unravel, the more it will help people like me, and future generations at risk of developing depression,” Catherine said.

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.

Issued by VIVA! Communications on behalf of QIMR Berghofer.

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.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Kirsten Bruce, 0401 717 566; Mark Henderson, 0431 465 004, VIVA! Communications

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  1. Black Dog Institute. Facts and Figures about Mental Health and Mood Disorders, 2012. Available at: [last accessed January, 2017]
  2. Beyond Blue. What is depression. Available at: [last accessed January, 2017]
  3. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Depression. Available at [last accessed January, 2017].
  4. World Health Organization (WHO). Depression: A Global Crisis, World Mental Health Day, October 10, 2012, pg. 14. Available at: [last accessed January, 2017].