INTEGRATED PROJECT, RESEARCH
EU study delves into the genetics of depression
A collaborative EU investigation into the genetic factors linked to depression – a mental illness affecting millions of Europeans – may yield more effective treatments.
The project – appropriately named NEWMOOD – is being funded by the European Union under its Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) and will take up to five years to develop new drug treatments for depression by studying the genetic factors underlying the condition.
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Bill Deakin of the University of Manchester (UK) says the project’s main aim is to find new molecules involved in triggering depression – a mental state characterised by feelings of sadness, despair and discouragement – so that novel drugs may be developed. “Antidepressant drugs haven’t changed much for the past 30 years,” he told reporters during the project launch at the Human Genome Meeting in Berlin (DE) last April.
NEWMOOD’s partners from 13 laboratories across Europe – including three from new Member States Estonia, Poland and Hungary – received €7.3 million through one of FP6’s new funding instruments, the integrated projects, under the ‘life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health’ thematic priority.
Depression is thought to be caused by genetic and environmental factors. Counselling and therapy are often used alongside drug treatment. For the estimated 120 million people worldwide who experience a sense of despondency – marked by, for example, reduced interest or pleasure in activities, weight and appetite shifts, agitation and fatigue – more effective treatments would offer much-needed respite.
The project will look for genes that affect depression; firstly in mouse and rat models, then later in humans. This, the scientists hope, should provide new targets for drugs and aid in the diagnostic process, while improving understanding of the root causes of this illness. They will build a microchip carrying up to 800 genes that they believe may be linked to depression, including those governing metabolism, growth and cell communication.
The chip will then test which genes are active in healthy and depressed animals and humans. Observing animal depression can be done by noting, for instance, lower than usual interest in sweetened water and a tendency not to struggle as much when held in a way they normally would not like.
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Formal definition of depressionStudy to probe genetics of depression (Nature, 8 April 2004)NEWMOOD project information (on CORDIS)