Apps and early intervention: the 2019-20 Miner's Lamp Innovation Fund

Annual Report 2019-20

The 2020 Miner’s Lamp Innovation Fund recipients are taking on the worst impacts of severe mental illness

Every year, the Miner’s Lamp Innovation Fund supports research dedicated to the prevention and early detection of severe mental illness. The 2019-20 recipients are using smartphones and biomarkers to protect patients from the worst impacts of mental illness.

For people living with bipolar disorder (BD), the illness's tendency to recur over time can cause uncertainty and distress. Dr. Ishrat Husain is looking for ways to identify the severity of a patient’s BD and the likelihood of recurrence.

Recent research has uncovered symptoms of advanced aging in those suffering from BD. Dr. Husain’s study aims to investigate these changes on the molecular level. The study will follow patients from a young age in order to determine if the physical changes are associated with more severe BD.

“We’re hoping to discover a set of markers that would allow us to manage BD based on severity,” says Dr. Husain, “Building a better understanding of its biological aspects could allow us to predict recurrences and mitigate their worst affects.”

Dr. Jacob Vorstman is also exploring ways to mitigate the impacts of BD relapses, and he’s leveraging the power of smartphones to do it. “Recurrences can cause patients with BD to experience intense feelings of powerlessness,” says Dr. Vorstman, “We’re hoping to give patients a greater sense of control by providing a way for them to monitor their own mental health.”
 “We know that behavior indicators exists for BD patients with depressive episodes. There won’t be a sudden shift into a full episode. An individual will experience a change in their mental health over days or weeks. The question is can we detect these changes with a smartphone? If we can, it gives us an opportunity to provide treatment and possibly mitigate the worst impacts of the recurrence.”

Dr. Farooq Naeem is working with smartphones aw well, delveloping an an app to detect relapses in patients with Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders (SSDs).

Disturbances in speech and language are a hallmark of psychosis in patients with SSD. Dr. Anthony Yeung, a psychiatry resident and research lead on the study, explains: “By analyzing the speed, tone, and number of pauses in a patient’s speech, we aim to identify when a relapse is imminent.”

“If we can create a passive method to detect relapses before they happen, the implications will be huge,” says Dr. Naeem, “It has the potential to transform how we practice psychiatry.”