Media release: 5 September 2017.

An innovative research project using the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study has been awarded a $2.46 million genomics funding grant by the NSW Government to improve understanding of the genetics of bipolar disorder in order to drive better future treatments for patients.

Researchers from a number of organisations will collaborate on the project, which will use whole genome sequencing of 1200 samples from 45 and Up Study participants who have a history of bipolar disorder and have provided blood samples to be used in research.

The Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study*, which is following the health and wellbeing of more than 260,000 people aged 45 years and over, is Australia’s largest and most valuable source of data on its ageing population. It is a long-term study that is being used by hundreds of researchers to investigate many different aspects of health and disease.

This new research project using the study, announced today by NSW Minister for Health, Brad Hazzard, and Minister for Mental Health, Tanya Davies, has been funded in the latest round of the NSW Genomics Collaborative Grants, and will give researchers the first opportunity to undertake research using samples from 45 and Up Study participants on which the whole genome has been sequenced.

“The grant is a real game changer. It will allow researchers to apply cutting-edge science to find answers on how this significant mental health condition is influenced by genetics,” Mr Hazzard said.

Sax Institute Head of Research Assets Dr Martin McNamara said the grant and the whole genome sequencing of samples represented an exciting new chapter to the 45 and up Study story. The Study’s capacity to be used as a tool to answer questions around the critical health challenges we face as a nation was likely to expand further in coming years, he added.

Sax Institute CEO Professor Sally Redman said the capacity to add information from whole genome sequencing both to participants’ existing self-reported data and to health service use information would provide a joined-up resource to really understand the determinants of disease and to identify new targets or treatments.

With 250,000 people affected by bipolar disorder in Australia alone, researchers will explore genetic contributors to the disorder, how it progresses clinically in individuals, and how people with different genetic risk factors respond to bipolar medications, using data record linkage in NSW.

The grant provides access to a genome sequencing facility at the Garvan Institute and includes researcher at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), the Black Dog Institute, UNSW and the Prince of Wales Hospital.

Lead researcher Dr Janice Fullerton at NeuRA said it would link three crucial international genomics consortiums, each at the forefront of research in the field, making NSW a critical contributor to international efforts on gene discovery.

“This internationally unique project will improve our understanding of the genes causing bipolar disorder, their relationship to genes contributing to associated general medical ill-health, and will also enhance capacity for personalised medicine,” she said.

”It has real potential  to enable the identification of individual patients who would benefit from specific treatments based on their genetic makeup.”

 About the Sax Institute

The Sax Institute is an independent Australian leader in helping decision makers find and make best use of research to solve real-world health and social problems.

*About the 45 and Up Study

The Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study is providing Australia’s first, large-scale, comprehensive picture of health as people age and involves more than a quarter of a million people.

It is a major national research tool being used by both researchers and policy makers to better understand how Australians are ageing, how they are using health services, how to prevent and manage ill-health and disability and how this can guide decisions on our health system.

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