Dr. Kunmi Sobowale, UCLA

AIM Clinical Science Fellow Grantee: Dr. Kunmi Sobowale

Dr. Kunmi Sobowale is a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow and postdoctoral research fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research interest is the prevention and early intervention of mental illness in the perinatal period and early childhood. His current research leverages digital health technologies, including mobile devices and electronic health records data, to examine determinants of perinatal depression and the mechanisms by which perinatal depression affects the caregiver-child interaction and child developmental outcomes.

Background: A child’s caregiving environment in first few years of life has a tremendous effect on their future development. Postpartum depression, which afflicts at least 500,000 mothers or about 13% of all birthing mothers annually in the United States, can dramatically impact this environment, and has short- and long-term adverse effects on child health and development. Several studies including a recent review examining 191 studies of nearly 200,000 children, find that children growing up with mothers with PPD are at higher risk for worse motor, cognitive, language, and social-emotional development as well as increased risk of internalizing and externalizing symptoms associated with psychopathology. A growing body of evidence finds that the maternal-child interaction (MCI) in the postpartum period is a primary environmental factor contributing to child developmental difficulties and future psychopathology.

As an AIM Clinical Science Fellow, Dr. Sobowale’s study will use mobile sensing devices (audio recorders, Bluetooth sensors, and a wearable wristband) to assess how postpartum depression affects the mother-child interaction and child development. He aims to elucidate specific modifiable mechanisms by which postpartum depression affects the mother-child interaction, and in turn, how this interaction affects child socioemotional development in the first year of life.

Potential Impact: If this sensor-based biomarker approach of the MCI in postpartum depression is successful, in the next few years, we aim to pilot giving sensing devices to families presenting to primary care or obstetrical settings in the postpartum period. This will enable clinical staff to coach and provide feedback to parents on vocal pitch modulation and conversational turn taking akin to well-established video feedback parenting