Genomics of Postpartum Depression–Action towards Causes and Treatment (gPACT); PACT for the Cure

2015 Award: $99,000

Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody helped assemble an international team of researchers and clinicians who, using open-source Apple software, could gather information from thousands of women experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD). Selected participants would submit DNA samples for researchers to compare against DNA from women who have never experienced depression. With this study, Dr. Meltzer-Brody and her team hope to discover genetic factors that could lead to better prediction, diagnosis, and treatment for perinatal mental illnesses.

Need/Problem: Postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum psychosis (PPP) affect millions of women worldwide and are the leading cause of maternal morbidity and mortality. Research on the causes of PPD and PPP are greatly underfunded leaving researchers and clinicians with an incomplete understanding of who is at risk.

Grant Summary: This project is an innovative and novel approach to rapidly elucidate the genetic basis of PPD and PPP by conducting an extremely rapid and large genome-wide association study. This will improve detection, prevention and treatment of these conditions.

Goals and Projected Outcomes: Our goal is to learn more about the biological basis of PPD and PPP by conducting a large genome-wide association study using Apple’s newly created open-source Research Kit software. We anticipate enrolling 100,000 women in the study via a smartphone based iOS app and collecting both phenotypic and genetic information from them.

Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, MPH

Patrick Sullivan, MD, FRANZCP

Grant Details: Postpartum depression (PPD) is common and causes enormous human
suffering and costs to society. PPD is the leading cause of maternal morbidity and mortality and is a critical public
health threat. In addition, postpartum psychosis (PPP) is a rare but potentially devastating postpartum mood
disorder that is also poorly understood. We now know that PPD and PPP have a prominent but complex genetic
basis. We propose a highly innovative study to rapidly elucidate the genetic basis of PPD and PPP utilizing the
power of a partnership of world PPD experts with Apple.

Potential subjects will go to the Apple iTunes/App store and download the free gPACT app for iPhone or iPad. The
gPACT app establishes the presence or absence of lifetime PPD. All instruments are widely used and validated.
Moreover, we have consulted with international colleagues that are highly skilled in large-scale phenotyping to
develop our assessment measures. The PACT app is currently being developed in collaboration with Little Green
Software located in Durham, NC. The company specializes in health, medical and educational app development. The
work is well-underway with focus group testing and validation to occur in the next few months. Women who are
identified on the app screening with lifetime PPD or PPP will be asked to submit a saliva sample for genetic assays
and storage for future use. Understanding the genetic basis of PPD and PPP is an important goal that could lead to
the development of preventive strategies and targeted treatments that could dramatically decrease suffering for women and their families.