Neurologist Michael Rogawski named a 2019 UC Davis Innovator of the Year for postpartum depression work


Michael Rogawski and his groundbreaking work on a drug to treat postpartum depression was recognized with a 2019 Chancellor’s Innovation Award.

Postpartum depression affects one in every nine new mothers.
Postpartum depression affects one in every nine new mothers.

Rogawski is a professor in the UC Davis Departments of Neurology and Pharmacology and former chair of the Department of Neurology at UC Davis Health. He was one of two to receive the prestigious award at a ceremony on the Davis campus May 30. 

New treatment for postpartum depression 

Rogawski’s research focused on allopregnanolone, also known as brexanolone. Earlier this year, brexanolone received Food and Drug Administration approval as the first and only specific drug treatment for women with postpartum depression. 

In the U.S. roughly one in every nine women who give birth will experience postpartum depression, a major depressive disorder that can have devastating consequences for a woman and her family. Rogawski became interested in developing a treatment for postpartum depression with allopregnanolone when his studies showed the naturally-occurring neurosteroid had antidepressant possibilities. 

Adjusting hormone levels in postpartum depression

During pregnancy, levels of the hormone progesterone rise dramatically but fall precipitously during the day or two after giving birth. Levels of allopregnanolone, which is derived from progesterone, also fall after childbirth. Rogawski reasoned that withdrawal of allopregnanolone might trigger depression in some susceptible women. 

With collaborators at UC Davis, he developed a formulation of allopregnanolone that restores the blood level of allopregnanolone to that found in late-stage pregnancy. Sage Therapeutics licensed rights, including certain patent rights, from the University of California for commercial use of allogpregnanolone and plans to release Zulresso (brexanolone) in June 2019. Zulresso is expected to improve women’s health and to impact treatment protocols for postpartum depression locally, nationally and globally.

About UC Davis Chancellor’s Innovator of the Year award 

The Innovator of the Year award recognizes individual faculty, staff or teams whose innovative research or accomplishments have made a measurable societal impact in the preceding year, or whose university activities have achieved important milestones and have had or present very strong potential for societal impact. Recipients receive $10,000 which can be applied to their research or to their university enabled societal engagement efforts.

“These honorees represent the spirit of excellence and innovation that distinguishes UC Davis as one of the best public research universities in the nation,” said Chancellor Gary May. “They are the game-changers making a positive impact — not only in our region, but also around the world.”