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Genetic analysis of depression risk

   Medical Research

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  Dr Brittany Mitchell  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

One in five Australians will be diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) in their lifetime, and approximately one third of those will not respond to treatment. While progress has been made in understanding the role genetics plays in risk of depression, there is still much more understanding needed to elucidate the biology of disorder. Furthermore, MDD is primarily managed pharmacologically with antidepressants alongside psychotherapy, but across treatment types outcomes are variable and many individuals do not experience any remission of symptoms or cease treatment due to adverse side-effects. It is hypothesized that a proportion of individual differences in treatment response is due to a genetic component. However, little is known about the extent to which genes may play a role in treatment response. This project will predominantly focus on the genetic analysis of depression risk and treatment response but may also consider genetic analyses for other mental health or neurological disorders as well as relationships between these disorders and other traits. 

AIMS: The overall aims of this project is to i) better understand how genes play a role in depression risk as well as depression features such as age of onset, recurrence etc; ii) assess whether depression treatment response traits are heritable and iii) identify genetic variants influencing these traits. We will then assess the predictive ability of the identified genetic variants to identify those at risk of depression or distinguish individuals most likely to respond to treatment or experience side-effects, and test the causal nature of putative epidemiological risk factors that may influence treatment response.

APPROACHES: We already have access to national and international large-scale genetic data sets (N=20,000 and N= 500,000 respectively) which collected data on depression risk, features, medication response including efficacy, tolerability, and adverse side-effects as well as psychotherapy response. The student will employ a range of statistical genetic approaches such as, genome-wide association studies and polygenic risk scoring, to interrogate these data and to determine the genes and pathways underlying depression-related traits as well as explore the relationships between depression and other phenotypes.

About the team: The Psychiatric Genetics laboratory at QIMR Berghofer comprises staff and students working at the intersection between neuroimaging, genetics and mental health. 

The Psychiatric Genetics group develops and applies statistical genetic methods across a wide range of neuropsychological and brain imaging traits to better understand their aetiology. A major interest is exploring the genetic underpinnings of depression and bipolar disorder, and how genes may influence how individuals respond to treatment and the side-effects they may experience. The lead researcher of this group is Professor Sarah Medland.

About you: Suited to someone with an undergraduate or Master’s degree in psychology, genetics, epidemiology, statistics or bioinformatics. Experience in the analysis/ manipulation of large datasets and a good knowledge of computing is desirable but not essential. Non-statistical applicants must be able to demonstrate some knowledge of statistics. For statistical applicants, some knowledge of psychology or genetics is desirable. 

The successful applicant will be provided a tax-free living stipend of $32,129 per annum for 3 years with possible 6 month extension. You must apply here:

All applicants are encouraged to contact Dr Mitchell directly if they have questions about the project.

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