gPACT – a rapid large & inexpensive study of Postpartum Depression

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.

Samantha Meltzer-Brody, M.D.

Need/Problem:  Despite its prevalence—up to 1 in 7 mothers experience postpartum depression—and its devastating effects on women and their families, PPD (and, by extension, PPP) is a poorly understood condition.

Grant Summary: In an effort to combat this issue, Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, her fellow researchers at UNC Chapel Hill, and an international team of clinicians and scientists, have formed the Postpartum Depression: Action Towards Causes and Treatment (PACT) Consortium. Together, they are conducting an innovative study to discover more about the genetic basis of PPD and PPP.

Made possible by a partnership between PACT and Apple, the study uses a free smartphone app to gather data from women suffering from PPD or PPP. The app, which can be found in the App Store for iOS devices, is available in the United States and Australia, with an expected release in the United Kingdom.

Goals & Projected Outcomes: The project’s goal is to learn more about the biological basis of postpartum mood disorders by conducting a large genome-wide association study. There is no financial arrangement or contract between UNC and Apple. Dr. Brody and her colleagues developed their app through the use of the open-source Apple ResearchKit, used by researchers around the world to help maximize sample size and minimize costs.

The PACT researchers hope that, by mining an enormous amount of genetic data—tens of thousands of DNA samples—scientists will be able to develop more effective and direct treatments for the 1 in 7 women who suffer from PPD.

Grant Details: Female residents of the United States and Australia over the age of 18 who speak English and who are either pregnant or have had at least one live birth.

New mothers who download the app will be prompted to answer a series of questions about their childbirth experience and corresponding mood and anxiety levels. If applicable, doctor recommendations will be provided to women who need to be evaluated further for postpartum depression.

The app will:

•    Conduct a brief assessment of suitability for the study
•    Obtain informed consent for app-based assessment of PPD, PPP, and related characteristics that includes a brief quiz to document comprehension
•    Ask the participant a set of validated questions to determine the presence of PPD and/or PPP

Women who meet the inclusion criteria will be offered the opportunity to participate the genetic portion of the study. Following a second informed consent (for DNA sampling, storage, and genetic assays), participants will be sent a saliva-based home DNA collection kit, from which researchers will extract and store DNA; researchers will use this material to conduct genome-wide assays for common and rare genetic variation, and conduct the appropriate genetic analyses.