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Researchers begin study to find genes involved in depression

Washington University In St Louis : 01 August, 2000  (Technical Article)
Theodore Reich, M.D., the Samuel and Mae S. Ludwig Professor of Psychiatry and professor of genetics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, will help lead an international team of geneticists in a three-year study that will attempt to uncover the genetic basis of depression.
Reich is the principal investigator for the St. Louis site of the 10-center study involving researchers in the United States and Europe. Washington University will be the only center in the United States that will recruit study participants. Researchers hope that the international study, sponsored by British pharmaceutical company Glaxo Wellcome, will provide new insights into genetic and environmental factors associated with unipolar depression.

Also referred to as clinical depression or major depression, unipolar depression causes patients to slip into states of extreme sadness, hopelessness and lethargy. Unlike manic depression (also known as bipolar disorder), which involves fluctuations between depressed and euphoric states, the more common unipolar depression involves only low mood.

Reich plans to recruit 120 families in which some family members suffer from depression and others do not. He and the other investigators also will take advantage of new information from the human genome map as they search for genes related to depression.

'We will use the genome map as we try to determine why some people in a family develop depression while others do not,' Reich said. 'If we can identify genes that make people susceptible, it will revolutionize our understanding of the disease and guide the design of new drugs to prevent or treat this extremely debilitating disorder.'

Depression affects up to 12 percent of the Western world, and although about 70 percent of patients respond to treatment, three-fourths will experience a recurrence of their illness within 10 years. In addition, an estimated 60 percent of depressed people remain undiagnosed and untreated. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of 'lost years of healthy life.'

Allen Roses, M.D., worldwide director of genetics at Glaxo Wellcome, believes the time is right to isolate genes that contribute to a disease that he calls a huge societal burden.

'There is strong evidence that points to a genetic predisposition to unipolar depression,' Roses said. 'The information available from the sequencing of the human genome, together with the data we gather from this study, will provide an unprecedented level of understanding, which Glaxo Wellcome can feed into its research and development program to help speed the discovery of new medicines for depression.'

Reich and colleagues are recruiting volunteers for the study. All required study visits, examinations, evaluations and laboratory procedures will be provided free of charge. Those who qualify also will receive a small cash stipend.
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