Chinese university searches for genetic link to depression in major study

Updated 2017-08-09 09:46:14 Global Times

A Chinese university has launched a scientific research project on genetics-related causes of major depressive disorder (MDD), which will collect a record-breaking number of blood samples from MDD patients from the Han ethnic group.

The Bio-X Institute of Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), in cooperation with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), launched the project in December 2016, approved by China's Ministry of Science and Technology, thepaper.cn reported on Monday.

The project involves some 70 hospitals in China, which will collect more than 20,000 blood samples from female MDD patients from the Han ethnic group and then form a database of 40,000 to 50,000 samples, including those who do not show signs of depression disorders.

Li Weidong, executive head of the project, told the Global Times on Tuesday that SJTU is now signing cooperation agreements with Chinese hospitals and will probably start collecting samples in October this year.

The project will choose blood samples from female patients who are above 30 years old and have been diagnosed with MDD at least twice, which will be used in comparison analysis with blood samples from healthy women above 40 years old, Li said.

"The causes of MDD are complex in terms of environmental and genetic factors. We will focus on a targeted group carrying the same characteristics, including gender and age, so the research findings can be purer and more representative. After analysis of the targeted female groups, the research could be further extended to male groups or groups of all ages," Li said.

Similar research was conducted in 2005 by the University of Oxford, Virginia Commonwealth University and 58 Chinese hospitals to jointly launch a project called CONVERGE (China Oxford and VCU Experimental Research on Genetic Epidemiology), thepaper.cn reported.

CONVERGE was the largest project at that time on genetic research of the Chinese Han ethnic group with a total of 5,303 saliva samples from MDD patients in comparison with a total of 5,337 samples from healthy people, according to the report.

"Compared with CONVERGE, the SJTU-UCLA project is on a larger scale and has different sample collecting styles. The former collected saliva samples and we will collect blood samples," Li said, adding that the sample collecting group is the same, focused on female MDD patients above 30.

"All of the research work, including sample collecting, storing, sequencing and analysis in the project will be conducted in China, so it won't involve cross-border issues," Li said.

According to the World Health Organization, 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression which is a leading cause of disability and suicide.

"It is estimated 10 percent of MDD patients have committed suicide. The sample database will contribute to global research and analysis into the causes of MDD and thus find better ways to treat these patients," Li said.

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