Mental health research is becoming increasingly digital. Clinicians are trying to bridge mental health research with artificial intelligence to make sense of the sea of data curated from medical records of an untold number of patients.
Dr Sean Hill is the inaugural Director of the new research hub, Krembil Centre for Neuroinformatics at The Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), which will combine machine learning and data science, and apply it to neuroscience. The Toronto researcher says all the available information in the field needs to be transformed into a data-driven science.
“Right now mental health disorders are defined in terms of symptoms and we want to be defining them based on biological mechanisms,” Hill said. “That’s the Holy Grail of where we want to go.”
CAMH recruited an international team of scientists from Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Israel and Romania and has formed collaborations with many other leading research centres like Toronto Western Hospital at the University Health Network and the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence.
The centre will focus on several areas, including computational genomics that will analyze the relationship between genes, cells and circuits in the brain. Another group will build simulations of brain circuits, while another will focus on relating genes to brain anatomy. The scientists most ambitious project is “whole-person modelling” – to make sense of all the data collected, from demographic to brain imaging to genomic information along with an individual’s exercise and sleep patterns.
“How do we take into account all of those individual aspects and build a computational model that can help us understand risk factors and best approaches to treatment?” Hill asked.
One of the key reasons Dr. Shreejoy Tripathy decided to join the team is because it is embedded within a large mental health hospital. “There are just too many challenges around the access and governance of the data and you have to have a very tight collaboration with clinicians anyway,” Tripathy said. “Being within the same hospital really facilitates that.”
The first real world application, a digital BrainHealth Databank, is already having a positive impact on patient care. Researchers are working with clinicians who specialize in major depressive disorders to track patients’ progress – enabling the integration of research and care. In CAMH’s Major Depressive Disorder Integrated Care Pathway, the neuroinformatics team has initiated the use of electronic tablets in the clinic accelerating data capture. This patient data in turn helps doctors in their clinical decision making.
As the BrainHealth Databank grows, it will include high quality, rich datasets describing a patient’s journey through genomic, brain imaging, mobile and wearable data. It will be used by the neuroinformatics centre for future research to benefit patients at CAMH and around the world.
“The more high quality data we collect in the BrainHealth Databank, the more we can inform computational models which can accelerate the discovery of new diagnostic tools, treatments and technologies,” said BrainHealth Databank Senior Project Manager Dr. Joanna Yu.