5000 volunteers wanted for bipolar disorder study

Friday, 23 November, 2018

5000 volunteers wanted for bipolar disorder study

Five thousand Australian adults who have been treated for bipolar disorder are being asked to participate in a global study into the genetics behind bipolar disorder.

The study, the world’s largest genetic investigation into the chronic illness, is recruiting 100,000 participants worldwide and the Australian arm of the research team is seeking to contribute 5% of the overall study population.1

The Australian Genetics of Bipolar Disorder Study aims to identify the genes that predispose people to bipolar disorder in order to develop more effective, personalised treatments and ultimately, find a cure for the illness.1

The QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (QIMR Berghofer), located in Brisbane, is the base for the Australian arm of the international study with collaborating centres throughout North America and Europe.1

Approximately one in 50 Australians (1.8%) will experience bipolar disorder during their lifetime.2 The complex disorder, which occurs commonly in families, typically results from a combination of genetic and environmental influences.2 Those living with bipolar disorder may be at higher risk of developing other health issues, including alcohol and drug abuse, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.2 They also carry a 15 times greater risk of suicide than the general population, accounting for up to 25% of all suicides.2

According to Professor Nick Martin, Australian study co-Investigator and Head of the Genetic Epidemiology Research Group at QIMR Berghofer, the researchers are seeking male and female Australian volunteers aged 18 and older, who are currently or have been treated in the past for bipolar disorder. Their involvement will allow researchers to shed light on the genes that predispose people to the illness to ultimately develop more personalised treatments.

“There is a strong link between genetics and bipolar disorder. The human genome contains around 20,000 genes3. Although we do not yet know all the genes that influence bipolar, what we do know is how to identify them. We just need a large enough study, performed in the right way, to identify these genes.”

“Australian research has shown that from the average age of symptom onset (17.5 years), there is a delay of approximately 12.5 years before a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is made4,” said Prof Sarah Medland, Lead Investigator and Head of the Psychiatric Genetics Group, QIMR Berghofer.

“The aim of this study is to increase the number of known genetic risk factors for bipolar disorder, with the aim of being able to develop a risk score that could be used to assess if someone is at risk of going on to develop the illness when they first experience depression or mania. Being able to assess this, and potentially intervene at the first presentation, would have a dramatic effect on the lives of individuals affected by bipolar disorder and their families,” she said.

According to Prof Ian Hickie, AM, study co-Investigator and Co-Director for Health and Policy at Brain and Mind Centre, The University of Sydney, participation in the study is free and simple — volunteers complete a 20-minute online survey, and those who qualify will be asked to donate a saliva sample.1

Study researchers will analyse DNA from saliva samples to identify specific genes associated with bipolar disorder.The knowledge will be used to improve current and develop new treatments for bipolar disorder.1

To volunteer for the Australian Genetics of Bipolar Disorder Study, head to www.geneticsofbipolar.org.au, email gbp@qimrberghofer.edu.au or call 1800 257 179.


1. The Australian Genetics of Bipolar Disorder Study. Available at http://geneticsofbipolar.com.au [last accessed July, 2018].

2. Black Dog Institute. Clinical Resources; Bipolar Disorder; What is Bipolar Disorder. Available at: https://blackdoginstitute.org.au/clinicalresources/bipolar-disorder/what-is-bipolar-disorder [last accessed July, 2018].

3. Ezkurdia, I., Juan, D., et al. (2014). Multiple evidence strands suggest that there may be as few as 19,000 human protein-coding genes. Human Molecular Genetics, 23(22), pp.5866-5878.

4. Berk, M., Dodd, S., Callaly, P., Berk, L., Fitzgerald, P., de Castella, A.R., & Kulkarni, J. (2007). History of illness prior to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 103(1-3), 181-186.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/andranik 123

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