This Week in Women: In Outerspace

On NASA’s C-SPAN live stream today, millions of viewers are able to watch U.S. astronaut Anne McClain take a three hour and 46 minute “spacewalk” with co-astronaut Nick Hague at the International Space Station. The mission that has taken over a year in planning is to replace nickel-hydrogen batteries with lithium-ion batteries on the outside of the Space Station.

This is just one example of outstanding participation by women in math and science this week, as our top headlines dive into new advancements in medicine and a mathematics honor awarded to the first woman in its prestigious history. It’s time for This Week in Women.

FDA Announces First-Approved “Game Changer” Drug to Treat PPD

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the approval of a postpartum depression (PPD) treatment drug, Zulresso (brexanolone). This is the first drug approved by the FDA specifically for the treatment of PPD.

“Postpartum depression is a serious condition that, when severe, can be life-threatening. Women may experience thoughts about harming themselves or harming their child. Postpartum depression can also interfere with the maternal-infant bond. This approval marks the first time a drug has been specifically approved to treat postpartum depression, providing an important new treatment option,” said Tiffany Farchione, M.D., acting director of the Division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Because of concerns about serious risks, including excessive sedation or sudden loss of consciousness during administration, Zulresso has been approved with a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) and is only available to patients through a restricted distribution program at certified health care facilities where the health care provider can carefully monitor the patient.”

While it is reported that 70-80% of women will experience “baby blues,” one in nine women will be diagnosed with PPD (with around 4 million live births in the U.S. each year, that means about 400,000 women will be diagnosed).

“FDA approval of a drug that was developed specifically for postpartum depression is a game-changer for women’s health,” said UNC School of Medicine (SOM) researcher Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, MPH, the academic principal investigator of the trials and director of Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the UNC SOM and the Ray M. Hayworth Distinguished Professor in Mood and Anxiety Disorders. “Given the results of the ZULRESSO clinical trials, we believe that this will be an important treatment option which could provide relief for women with PPD, a disorder with a range of postpartum severity.” 

American Professor Named First Woman to Receive Mathematics’ Highest Prize

The Abel Prize is lauded as one of the most coveted, prestigious awards in mathematics, and is decided each year by Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters with a presentation by the King of Norway to its outstanding mathematician selection. This year, the award was given, for the first time in history, to a woman. The recipient is Dr. Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck, an emeritus professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Abel Prize cited her as a role model and strong advocate of gender equality in science and mathematics, as well as “for her pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory and integrable systems, and for the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics.”

Dr. Uhlenbeck has also received the MacArthur Fellowship in 1983. “Looking back now I realize that I was very lucky,” she said to the New York Times. “I was in the forefront of a generation of women who actually could get real jobs in academia.”

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