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With mothers and medical providers clamoring for answers about postpartum depression, scientists are beginning a major effort to understand the genetic underpinnings of mood disorders that afflict millions of women during and after pregnancy.
Researchers led by a University of North Carolina team will use a new iPhone app to recruit women who have had postpartum depression. The goal is to collect about 100,000 DNA samples and compare them with DNA from women who have never experienced depression in hopes of discovering genetic factors that could lead to better prediction, diagnosis and treatment for maternal mental illness.
Attempts to find clear genetic clues to depression in the general population have yielded few results so far, and some experts questioned whether the new effort, announced Monday, would be any more promising. But the team’s theory is that postpartum depression may be distinct, involving genes with more identifiable effects because they act during or soon after pregnancy.
The free app, PPD ACT, will be offered in the United States, Australia and Britain, and is likely to be extended to other countries, said Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, director of the University of North Carolina’s perinatal psychiatry program and the project’s leader. “To make sure this is not just a study of iPhone-using people,” Dr. Meltzer-Brody said, iPad versions of the app will be available in some urban and rural clinics, and patients who want to provide their DNA will “right then and there be offered a spit kit.”
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