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Diving into Depression

Drugs to treat depression are largely the same as they were 50-odd years ago, writes the Broad Institute's Steven Hyman in an editorial appearing in Nature.

Despite the challenges inherent to studying major depressive disorder — its range of symptoms and a lower estimate of heritability than for other psychiatric diseases — he argues that a large-scale genetic study of depression could unveil variants linked with the condition and identify potentially actionable targets.

"Diagnosing MDD is more challenging than measuring height, of course, but the extra effort and cost are justified to illuminate the world's greatest source of disability," he says. "We will need a global coalition to assemble the requisite number of samples."

Hyman adds that such work is beginning to get underway, following in the footsteps of schizophrenia and autism studies.

"Although the individual effects of specific risk alleles will probably be very low, the information they could yield is enormous," he says. "They will allow researchers to rely on understanding, and not just luck, to make inroads into one of the biggest causes of human misery."