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May 31, 2018
Although everyone experiences sadness from time to time, depression is different. It causes severe, lingering symptoms that can affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. An estimated 16.2 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2016, representing nearly 7 percent of all U.S. adults.
Pursuing breakthroughs and much needed relief for people suffering from depression is not new. Recent findings, however, are helping the research community to see and understand depression like never before. Depression has a genetic component, as reaffirmed by new research identifying genomic variants associated with depression.
Implications for improving the treatment of depression
According to the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, researchers, in an unprecedented global effort by more than 200 scientists, performed a meta-analysis of more than 135,000 people with major depression (as well as 344,000 controls) and identified 44 genetic variants, or loci, that have a significant association with depression. The findings have implications for improving treatment.
Though a meta-analysis (a study of studies), discoveries like this ultimately depend on human biospecimens – typically blood or saliva – being produced and procured for study.
Tools for better treatment, even prevention of depression
“This study is a game-changer,” said Dr. Patrick Sullivan, co-leader of the study and a professor of psychiatry and genetics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “Figuring out the genetic basis of major depression has been really hard. A huge number of researchers across the world collaborated to make this paper and we now have a deeper look than ever before into the basis of this awful and impairing human malady. With more work, we should be able to develop tools important for treatment and even prevention of major depression.”
Shedding light on the biological underpinnings of depression
Dr. Steven E. Hyman, former director of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, though not an author of the paper, said the research sheds long-needed light on how depression works.
“Major depression represents one of the world’s most serious public health problems,” he told UNC. “Despite decades of effort there have been, until now, only scant insights into its biological mechanisms. This unfortunate state of affairs has severely impeded treatment development, leaving the many people who suffer from depression with limited options. This landmark study represents a major step toward elucidating the biological underpinnings of depression.”
Blood and saliva, the starting points for many genomic studies, will likely yield more insights intothe biological roots of psychological conditions, like depression. These biofluids and others, whether banked or prospectively collected, are now easy to search for and find in the iSpecimen marketplace.