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Media opportunity: Genetic test could join family history as indicator of individual risk of developing mental illness, according to new Dalhousie University research project

Posted by Communications and Marketing on February 22, 2023 in News

Mental illness runs in families and one of the best ways to estimate an individual’s risk of mental illness is to look at their family history. That information, however, may not always be available.

Another method to determine genetic predisposition to an illness is through polygenic scores, which are the total number of genetic variants that an individual has to assess their heritable risk of developing a particular disease.

Researchers at Dalhousie University wanted to know if these scores could help identify which youth are at higher risk of developing mental illness. Using blood and saliva samples, they calculated the scores of 1,884 young people in eight international studies. Of those, 1,339 had parents with mood or psychotic disorders.

The team, including Dr. Alyson Zwicker of Dalhousie’s Medical School and Dr. Rudolf Uher in Dal's Psychiatry Department, found that youth with a greater genetic predisposition to neuroticism -- a personality trait linked to anxiety and mood problems -- were more likely to develop major mental illness by adulthood.

They also found that youth with greater genetic predisposition to well-being were less likely to develop major mental illness.

The results, outlined in a study released today, suggest that polygenic scores may be used in combination with other information, such as family history, to help identify which youth may benefit from early interventions.

Dr. Zwicker and Dr. Uher are available to discuss the research and how it could help at-risk youth benefit from childhood programs to strengthen their mental health for the long-term.


Media contact:

Alison Auld
Senior Research Reporter
Communications, Marketing and Creative Services
Dalhousie University
Cell: 1-902-220-0491


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