By: Jessica Washington
SYDNEY, Aug. 21 (Xinhua) -- Australian experts believe that understanding the genetics of depression is vital to develop effective treatments, and have called on members of the public to participate in a study to help them crack the genetic code of depression.
After just three months, the researchers are already more than halfway to reaching their target of survey participants, and hope to recruit an additional 7,000 people who have suffered, or continue to suffer from, clinical depression.
Lead researcher on the study, Professor Nicholas Martin from the University of Queensland said by uncovering the genetic causes of depression, this can create more personalized and effective treatment options for patients.
"At the moment, there are a range of medications available. Some of these suit some people very well, however, other people may find that their treatment didn't work at all - or perhaps, they experienced very unpleasant side effects," Martin told Xinhua on Monday.
"Doctors have no idea what reaction their patient will have to particular treatments. It's complete hit and miss - so we want to use genetic knowledge to take the guesswork out of treating depression."
Half of the survey participants reported they experienced negative side effects like nausea, drowsiness, or fatigue, as a result of taking antidepressants - and disturbingly, 9 percent said they had increased suicidal thoughts as a result of their medication.
The study marks the world's largest genetic investigation into clinical depression, and Martin said the willingness of people to assist in this research is clear evidence of dissatisfaction with current treatment methods.
"We are very gratified. I didn't expect the response to be so strong, but we've seen a great willingness to help," Martin said.
The researchers hope to use the data from the participants to assess how genes influence the risk of developing depression, and the way a patient responds to particular kinds of treatment.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 300 million people around the world suffer from depression - making it the leading cause of disability worldwide.
"Depression will continue to be with us in the future, but it's just about effective treatment to ease the burden," Martin said.
"It causes immense emotional suffering, and also a huge economic burden - so there's a big incentive to ensure that we have effective treatment options available."
Interim data from the 13,000 Australians with clinical depression who have already responded to the survey revealed more than 60 percent of participants rely on multiple antidepressants to treat their condition.
Co-researcher Professor Ian Hickie from the University of Sydney said the fact that patients must resort to taking a cocktail of antidepressants to find relief signifies a failure of the initial treatment, which perhaps had little or no benefit for the patient.
In order to reduce patient exposure to "trial and error", Hickie believes genetic testing can provide clearer guidelines for doctors, and assist them in predicting side effects, well before a patient has started treatment.
"We have a world-leading opportunity, with new genetics, and participation from the public, to crack this life-threatening condition."