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Study Underway of Depression, Bipolar Disorder Genetics

Man with depression

(TypographyImages, Pixabay)

2 August 2017. A large-scale study by two companies and a think tank started enrolling participants to learn more about the role of genetics in major depressive and bipolar disorders. The research project is recruiting some 25,000 participants, carried out by the personal genetics enterprise 23andMe, working with pharmaceutical company H. Lundbeck A/S, and the Milken Institute.

The partners are seeking to uncover genetic components to two complex neurological diseases. Depression is a widespread condition, which when it becomes persistent or severe, is called major depression, and can interfere with normal family and work life, and lead to disability. National Institute of Mental Health estimates in 2015, 16.1 million adults in the U.S., or 6.7 percent of the adult population, suffered a major depressive episode in the previous 12 months.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by sharp mood swings from high-energy euphoria to deep feelings of sadness, sometimes so severe they require hospitalization, if moods generate dangerous or suicidal behavior. Periods of bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic-depression, can last from days or weeks at a time, over periods of years. Treatments can include drugs and counseling, combined with substance abuse treatments, if needed. About 2.6 percent of adults in the U.S. report experiencing a bipolar episode in the previous 12 months, with the vast majority (83%) of cases considered severe.

The study is recruiting 15,000 people with major depressive disorder and another 10,000 individuals with bipolar disorder. Participation is open to persons age 18 to 50 living in the U.S., diagnosed with either condition by a physician, and can access the Internet with either a laptop or desktop computer. People taking part in the study will be enrolled in 23andMe’s personal genome service at no cost and sent a saliva sampling kit, with the specimen returned to the company for analysis.

Participants will then be asked to complete online cognitive assessment sessions each month for 9 months, with each session expected to take 10 to 30 minutes. Data from the saliva samples and cognitive assessment sessions will have identifying information removed before the research team conducts its analysis. The results are expected to provide new insights into the role and interaction of genetics and environmental factors on brain functions and behavior.

The researchers believe the findings will expand on research reported a year ago, also done by 23andMe, based in Mountain View, California, working with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. As reported in Science & Enterprise, the analysis identified 15 regions in the genome and 17 specific variations associated with depression among people of European descent. The study analyzed common genetic variations in some 75,600 individuals of European origin, who reported a diagnosis or treatment for depression, and nearly 232,000 persons also of European heritage, with no reports of depression. The results were published in the journal Nature Genetics (paid subscription required).

Lundbeck and the Milken Institute are joining with 23andMe on the project. Lundbeck is a pharmaceutical company in Valby, Denmark that specializes in psychiatric and neurological disorders. The company develops drugs for depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. The Milken Institute is a public policy research organization advancing collaborative solutions that widen access to capital, create jobs and improve health. The institute plans to take advantage of its patient advocacy and social networks to recruit participants in the study.

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