Pact for the Cure: the Largest-Ever Study of Postpartum Depression

The Foundation of Hope is proud to be a major sponsor of PPD ACT, the largest-ever study of women with postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, devastating mood disorders that are both poorly studied and poorly understood.


ppdactWhat is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a mood disorder affecting women who have given birth, most often characterized by persistent symptoms of despair, anxiety, and fatigue. Unlike the temporary “baby blues,” postpartum depression can linger for months or longer, and may not manifest until as long as six months after childbirth. Sufferers may have trouble sleeping, eating, or concentrating, and may experience anxiety attacks or thoughts of doing harm to themselves or their babies.

In extreme cases, postpartum depression manifests as a more severe condition called postpartum psychosis (PPP). In these cases, sufferers may experience hallucinations, feelings of paranoia, or obsessive thoughts about their babies, and may attempt to harm themselves or their babies.


What is the purpose of this study?

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.

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.

Infographic by Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. Click to enlarge (opens in new tab).

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.

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.


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.

The Program:

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:

  1. Conduct a brief assessment of suitability for the study
  2. Obtain informed consent for app-based assessment of PPD, PPP, and related characteristics that includes a brief quiz to document comprehension
  3. 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.

What does this mean for PPD/PPP treatment?

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.

Meet the PACT lead researchers

PACT is comprised of dozens of clinicians, researchers, and software developers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Sweden, Denmark, and The Netherlands. Click here for a comprehensive list of their team members.

Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody

United States: Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, M.D., MPH, is an Associate Professor and Director of the UNC Perinatal Psychiatry Program of the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders. In addition to her postpartum work with PACT, she is investigating novel treatment options for depression in perinatal women. Her other funded research investigates the neuroendocrine, genetic, and other biological markers of perinatal mood disorders. She also studies maternal depression in high-risk groups, including adolescent mothers and mothers of children with neurodevelopmental delays.

United Kingdom: Ian Jones is a Professor of Perinatal Psychiatry for the Department of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences at Cardiff University, and an Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist in Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust. His research interests relate to bipolar spectrum disorders, and in particular the relationship of mood disorders to childbirth. His clinical interest is in the identification and management of women at high risk of severe postpartum episodes.

Australia: Professor Naomi Wray holds joint appointments at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) and the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) within The University of Queensland. She is a National Health and Medical Research Council Principal Research Fellow and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. She is a Board Member of the International Society for Psychiatric Genetics, and is Associate Editor for the journals JAMA Psychiatry and Genetics. Her research focuses on development of quantitative genetics and genomics methodology, with application to psychiatric and neurological disorders.


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