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23andMe Data Helps Identify Genetic Causes of Depression

23andMe study with Pfizer shows genetic causes of depression

DNA testing and analysis company 23andMe announced an important development in helping people manage their health risks by understanding their genetic makeups.

A joint study by 23andMe, Massachusetts General Hospital and pharmaceutical company Pfizer identified 32 genetic factors and 15 regions of the human genome responsible for the development of severe depression. The study is significant in part because of the sheer number of subjects studied: More than 450,000 23andMe customers, of whom 120,000 reported doctor’s visits in the past due to depression concerns, consented to have their DNA analyzed.

The long-term significance of the discovery is unclear, but locating parts of the genome responsible for depression may eventually make it possible to target neurotransmitters in more precise ways. In the short term, it should now be possible to identify when a person is predisposed to depression based on genetic profiles.

23andMe, which was founded in 2006 by Linda Avey, Paul Cusenza, and Anne Wojcicki, has accumulated more than one million genotypes from its customers, providing an unmatched treasure trove of genetic data that can be used for medical research. While customers typically use 23andMe to find out about their inherited medical history and ancestry, 80 percent of them also allow their DNA profiles and medical information to be used in research. According to 23andMe, on average, an individual customer ends up contributing to 230 different research studies.