April 27, 2017
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine today launched the Android version of PPD ACTTM, a mobile app-based study helping to further the understanding of why some women suffer from Postpartum Depression (PPD) and others do not – critical knowledge for researchers working to find more effective treatments. PPD ACTTM, built using Apple’s ResearchKit, is now available in the U.S. and Australia for Android devices and the iOS version is now available in Canada. Additionally, all users in the U.S. may access a new module to help researchers understand the economic impact and burden that PPD has on society.
The app surveys women to identify those who have had symptoms of PPD and invites certain women to provide DNA samples so that researchers can study the genes of those affected by PPD.
During its first year, approximately 14,000 women enrolled in the study, far surpassing expectations. PPD ACT was initially launched as an iPhone-based ResearchKit app, an open-source framework developed by Apple that allows researchers to create app-based studies with global reach. However, since approximately half of the U.S. population uses Android phones, as do many women in Australia, this new version of the app will open the doors for many more women to participate. Additionally, a Canadian team led by Women’s College Hospital in Ontario, Canada, has received funding to expand the iOS app into Canada, responding to the numerous requests from Canadian women wanting to participate in the study.
Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, MPH, director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders, and Patrick Sullivan, MD, director of the UNC Center for Psychiatric Genomics, led efforts to design the study and develop the app.
“The participation from the first year of the study is astounding and, frankly, unprecedented in terms of using the social media platform of an app to recruit women for study participation involving the donation of genetic samples,” said Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, lead researcher for the study and director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders. “Launching the Android version in the U.S. and Australia and expanding into Canada allows for an even larger group of women the opportunity to share their experiences so that we can more effectively diagnose and treat PPD in the future.”
This study is the first of its kind and uniquely designed for rapid collection of a large number of DNA samples required for genetic analysis. The eventual goal is to gather 50,000 samples from around the globe through continued expansion to additional countries.
PPD ACTTM has also had impact beyond research. Many women have sought care and treatment based on symptoms that became apparent after completing the screening module of the app.
“As someone who experienced a variation of PPD symptoms after the births of both of my daughters, I would have welcomed an application, in the privacy of my home, at my fingertips, to potentially help target the ‘what and why’ of this temporary mental health challenge,” said patient and Advocacy Chair of the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health Jamie Belsito. “In addition to gathering valuable data, PPD ACT is also starting a much-needed dialogue to help eradicate the stigma often associated with PPD, and to encourage more providers to thoroughly screen for and treat PPD.”
The U.S. version of the app will also now feature a module which will help researchers better understand the burden that PPD has on patients’ quality of life, maternal function, bonding and utilization of health care services. Currently, researchers have an inadequate understanding of the economic burden and the cost of PPD on society. This health outcomes research is being conducted in collaboration with Sage Therapeutics, Inc.
“Until now, the impact of PPD on individuals, their families, and society has been poorly understood. This research, undertaken by UNC, Sage and our collaborators, helps to provide a new, real-world, data-driven understanding of the disease burden postpartum depression patients experience and of their healthcare utilization,” said Steve Kanes, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Medical Officer at Sage. “We are very excited to collaborate with UNC in helping to further study the functional and economic impact of this complication of pregnancy.”
Android users in the U.S. and Australia will be able to download PPD ACTTM from Google Play. The app continues to be available for iPhone users as a free download from the App Store in the U.S. and Australia, and it is now also available in Canada. International research partners include The University of Queensland in Australia and Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, Canada. To help spread the message, UNC has partnered with Postpartum Support International, which is dedicated to increasing awareness among public and professional communities about the emotional changes women experience during pregnancy and postpartum.
“Postpartum Support International is thrilled to partner with UNC on this pioneering study, and to collaborate with researchers around the world,” said Ann Smith, president of Postpartum Support International. “We will spread the message and opportunity to participate through our global network of volunteers and professional members. We are confident that findings from this study will prevent suffering and increase positive outcomes for future generations.”
Development of the app and support for the study are provided by the Foundation of Hope for research and treatment of mental illness; Sage Therapeutics, a neuroscience-focused company discovering medicines to treat rare, life-threatening CNS disorders; the UNC Departments of Genetics and Psychiatry; and the UNC Center for Health Innovation. Little Green Software, a full-service app development firm, developed the app.
The app is intended for women 18 years or older who have previously given birth and believe they may have experienced or are currently experiencing signs or symptoms of PPD such as anxiety, depression, guilt, irritability or extreme sadness. To download the app or learn more about the study or PPD, visit pactforthecure.com.
About the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders
The UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders is internationally known in the evaluation and treatment of women with mood disorders that occur during periods of hormonal change. Reproductive mood disorders include depression and anxiety disorders associated with the reproductive life cycle. To learn more, click here.
About the UNC Center for Health Innovation
Established by the UNC Health Care System (UNC HCS) and the UNC School of Medicine (UNC SOM), the Center for Health Innovation initiates, evaluates and supports the adoption of disruptive, patient-centered innovations in the delivery and financing of health care. The Center strives to provide rapid assessment, coordinated facilitation, program management, partnership development and funding for innovation. To learn more, click here.
About Women’s College Hospital
For more than 100 years, Women’s College Hospital (WCH) has been developing revolutionary advances in health care. Today, WCH is a world leader in the health of women and Canada’s leading academic ambulatory hospital. A champion of equitable access, WCH advocates for the health of all women from diverse cultures and backgrounds and ensures their needs are reflected in the care they receive. It focuses on delivering innovative solutions that address Canada’s most pressing issues related to population health, patient experience and system costs. The WCH Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV) is developing new, scalable models of care that deliver improved outcomes for patients and sustainable solutions for the health system as a whole.
Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI) is tackling some of the greatest health challenges of our time. Its scientists are conducting global research that advances the health of women and improves healthcare options for all, and are then translating those discoveries to provide much-needed improvements in healthcare worldwide.
About The University of Queensland
The University of Queensland has maintained a reputation for excellence for more than a century by delivering knowledge leadership for a better world. UQ consistently ranks among the world’s top universities, reflecting UQ’s global standing, the high quality of our researchers, teaching staff and alumni, and our reputation for excellence. PPD-ACT UQ partner, Professor Naomi Wray FAA, holds joint appointments with UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) and UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute (QBI). These world-leading life science and neuroscience research institutes deliver health outcomes and impact that create positive change for society.
Media Contact: Caroline Curran