Black Dog looks to AI for treatment answers

2 minute read

The mental health organisation has launched a new depression precision research centre of excellence.

A new centre of research excellence will develop personalised, precision treatments for depression using artificial intelligence-enhanced adaptive trial methodology.

Launched at Parliament House on Wednesday, the Centre of Research Excellence in Depression Treatment Precision will be primarily run by the Black Dog Institute with collaborating partners including Harvard Medical School and the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

It’s also been supported by a $2.5 million NHMRC grant.

The centre will work across the fields of computer science, health economics, digital health, psychology and psychiatry.

The team at Black Dog has used AI-enhanced adaptive trial methodology in the past to establish the effectiveness of different digital mental health interventions for specific symptom profiles.

It does this using a purpose-built AI-enabled clinical trials platform and a smartphone application which supports the integration of phone-based digital phenotyping into clinical trials.

The digital phenotyping takes in passive data like phone battery and activity type, as well as active data like voice samples and typing patterns.

“Our team will use digital phenotyping to analyse smartphone data to better understand the early warning signs of depression,” Black Dog Institute senior researcher Dr Alexis Whitton said.

“This will help us detect depression earlier and deliver timely interventions to prevent symptoms from getting worse.”

The digital phenotyping data can then be uploaded to a secure data repository and processed via an algorithm.

At this stage, AI can be used to drive response-adaptive randomisation to reallocate larger portions of participants to interventions that are showing more promise.

Dr Whitton said the centre’s vision was to work toward a future where precision depression treatment was the rule, not the exception.

Assistant Minister for Mental Health Emma McBride called the research initiative “groundbreaking”, especially in the context of growing pressure on the mental health system.

“We know a lot of work needs to be done to make it easier for people to access mental health support and to improve mental health across Australia,” she said.

“This is why we must investigate and research new methods for treating people with depression.”

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