23andMe kicks off genetic study for depression, bipolar disorder

23andMe spit kit
The cause of major depression and bipolar disorder is unclear, so 23andMe, along with Lundbeck and the Milken Institute, will investigate how genetics affects behavior and brain function.

23andMe is teaming up with the Milken Institute and Lundbeck on a genetic study geared to unlock the underlying biology of major depressive and bipolar disorders. The partners are looking to recruit 25,000 people living with the conditions.

The first-of-its-kind study will consider cognitive assessments and survey responses as well as genetic data to learn how genes affect brain processes in people with major depressive or bipolar disorder, 23andMe said in a statement.

Major depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the U.S., affecting more than 16 million adults in 2015. According to the World Health Organization, major depression has the heaviest burden of disability among mental and behavioral disorders.

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“We know genetics play a role in the development of depression and bipolar, however there is a long pathway from our genes to the manifestation of complex diseases like these,” said Emily Drabant Conley, vice president of business development at 23andMe. “We need to look at these conditions in a more comprehensive way to advance our understanding. By studying cognitive function alongside genetics and other environmental variables on a massive scale, we hope to take a significant step forward in the study of depression and bipolar.”

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The partners plan to recruit 15,000 people with major depressive disorder and 10,000 with bipolar disorder between the ages of 18 and 50. Study participants must live in the U.S., have internet access and have been prescribed medication for their condition, according to the statement.

Participants will provide saliva samples for 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service and complete nine monthly cognitive assessments online. 23andMe and its partners will use deidentified data from the study to tease out how genetics and environmental factors influence brain function and behavior.

“We look forward to leveraging our patient advocacy network and social following to help drive awareness and recruitment efforts for the 23andMe study,” said Melissa Stevens, executive director of the Milken Institute’s Center for Strategic Philanthropy, in the statement. “Moreover, we are excited to better understand the disease biology of bipolar and major depressive disorders as doing so will help us guide philanthropists to maximize the return on their mental health giving programs.”