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Barrier Buster

Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody ’89 works as a leader of reproductive psychiatry research.

Historically, women’s reproductive mood disorders have been understudied, underappreciated and undertreated, a fact of which Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody ’89 is acutely aware. As an innovator and game-changer in the field of postpartum research and development, she is disrupting the way we approach reproductive psychiatry by breaking down the barriers women face when seeking treatment. 

Meltzer-Brody came to Simmons as a psychology major with no plans to attend medical school. As a first-year, she distinctly remembers learning about the disparities in women’s health research. With the encouragement of her professors, she declared a double major in biology and, after working at Massachusetts General Hospital, she went on to receive her M.D. from Northwestern University. 

“I never would have become a doctor if I hadn’t gone to Simmons,” says Meltzer-Brody. “Simmons really opened my eyes to the fact that women could do any number of things. Having professors that knew me and fostered my development was a huge gift that I continue to be very grateful for.” 

Meltzer-Brody has been at the University of North Carolina (UNC) for 19 years. During this time, she has been at the forefront of reproductive psychiatry research. In 2004, she founded the UNC Perinatal Psychiatry Program and now serves as its director. In 2011, despite facing barriers in the U.S. healthcare system, she opened a Perinatal Psychiatry Inpatient Unit for pregnant and postpartum women—the first of its kind in the country.

In part because of this inpatient unit, Meltzer-Brody became the academic principal investigator for the clinical study of Zulresso, the first drug developed specifically for postpartum depression. It garnered national attention earlier this year after receiving U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. 

“I hope to be a strong advocate for women in academic medicine.” —Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody ’89

“At the time, we had fairly low expectations of the drug,” explains Meltzer-Brody. “Instead, we saw a dramatic response, unlike any other drug currently on the market. Given that death from suicide is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality, there’s a great need for treatment that is rapidly acting, which makes this quite amazing and unlike anything we’ve had before.” 

Traditional depression medications can take weeks to take effect, but now with Zulresso, mothers are experiencing a robust response within the first day—the total time of treatment taking 60 hours. Considering that severe cases of postpartum depression can be a real health crisis, Meltzer-Brody describes Zulresso as a “game changer” and an exciting step forward in depression treatment as a whole. 

In May, the American Psychiatric Association presented her with the Alexandra Symonds Award in recognition of outstanding contributions and leadership in promoting women’s health and the advancement of women. She was also recently named department chair of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine. 

“I hope to be a strong advocate for women in academic medicine,” says Melzer-Brody of her new position. “I think there’s a huge need for ongoing mentorship and sponsorship of women in this field, and I’m very excited to be a part of that.”