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UMMS taking part in international study on genetics of postpartum depression

Women’s depression expert Kristina Deligiannidis encourages women to participate in PACT for the Cure

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

March 24, 2016

Kristina Deligiannidis, MD

UMass Medical School neuroscientist Kristina Deligiannidis, MD, is a co-investigator for a new study that aims to uncover genetic variants that may be present in the millions of women who suffer from depression during and after pregnancy. The international Postpartum Depression: Action Toward Causes and Treatment (PACT) research initiative is the largest-ever study undertaken to compare genetic profiles of women with and without postpartum depression.

“Comparing the genomes of women with and without PPD will help us identify biological factors that either put women at an increased risk of developing PPD, or may be protective against it,” said Dr. Deligiannidis, associate professor of psychiatry and obstetrics & gynecology. “Our ultimate goal is to develop therapeutic interventions that can help prevent PPD before it begins.”

Deligiannidis is a member of an international consortium of academic clinicians and scientists committed to understanding which women are at risk of postpartum depression. The group is conducting the study in collaboration with the National Institute of Mental Health and Apple Inc.

The study will employ a novel iPhone app named PPD ACT, developed with Apple by lead consortium researchers at the University of North Carolina, to survey women worldwide about their moods and behavior after giving birth. Up to 200,000 of them will then be invited to submit DNA, acquired through a simple saliva sample, for genotyping by the consortium. The goal is to collect half the DNA samples from women without PPD, and half from women with PPD. The National Institute of Mental Health is providing the test kits for the study and will be the repository for the genetic samples obtained in the United States.

“The app is readily available for free download from the App Store and we will widely encourage its use through social media,” said Deligiannidis. “Locally, our research team will approach women seeking care at the UMass Memorial Ob/Gyn and Women’s Mental Health clinic, and women participating in our ongoing perinatal depression studies at the UMMS Center for Psychopharmacological Research and Treatment, to inform them of this opportunity to be part of the PACT for the cure.”

Deligiannidis’ extensive perinatal and postpartum depression research program has been previously funded by the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research and the UMMS National Institutes of Health-funded Clinical and Translational Science Award. It is currently funded by an NIH research grant. UMMS has been contributing genetic samples from peripartum patients at UMass Memorial Health Care to consortium studies since 2012. Participation in this first-of-its-kind study will yield deeper understanding of the consortium’s earlier findings, published in Lancet Psychiatry, about variations in postpartum depression that suggest PPD seems to have several distinct clinical subtypes. Further assessment of PPD heterogeneity to identify more precise subtypes will be important for future biological and genetic investigations. 

“This research beautifully augments our growing research program that examines different biological contributors to a woman’s risk of PPD, including sex hormones, brain chemistry and genetic make-up,” said Deligiannidis.

She encourages health care providers to engage postpartum women aged 18 and older to participate by learning more about the study.

Related links on UMassMedNow:
Globe reports on postpartum depression research
WCVB-TV spotlights new UMMS study on post-partum depression
Brain and hormone research focuses on depression in new mothers
Study uses brain imaging to understand postpartum depression