Making Strides Towards Mental Health
Draper is known for solving real-world problems, and our Finding Integrated Neural Determinants for Emerging Risk (FINDER) team was selected by the DoD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a behavioral health tool to help clinicians identify patients at risk of suicide.
The Neural Evidence Aggregation Tool (NEAT) program seeks to provide quantitative information that someone is at risk for suicide, thus enabling clinicians to give treatment earlier and more reliably than ever before.
“We are excited by the potential for NEAT to help assess and treat mental health issues and improve outcomes for those affected by them,” said Andrea Webb, Ph.D., human-centered solutions scientist at Draper and NEAT program technical director.
Webb and Gretchen Knaack, Draper’s biosecurity and NEAT program manager, lead the FINDER team.
“Our incredible multidisciplinary team is composed of experts in psychophysiological understanding, advanced analytics and machine learning, system and software development, user experience and human-centered design,” said Webb. “As well as external experts in neurophysiology, novel sensor development, and clinical populations and novel treatment modalities.”
NEAT will identify and integrate preconscious brain signals with other physiological biomarkers into an objective screening process.
“Preconscious neural signals represent your brain processing information prior to you being consciously aware or able to filter your response,” said Knaack.
Current methods to detect early signs of behavioral health risk factors like anxiety, depression or substance abuse that can lead to suicide generally rely on self-reporting and screening questionnaires, which are subjective. Due to the persistent stigma surrounding mental health, patients may be less inclined to be candid with their providers about what they are thinking or feeling.
“We have had several independent research and development projects (IR&Ds) in the mental health domain, focused on the development of objective indicators for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression,” said Webb.
The NEAT screening process will use relevant prompts to establish a unique baseline for the person being screened. NEAT then will quantify the preconscious signals into evidence that the person believes the stimuli are true, false or indeterminate.
The multimodal approach will include physiological sensors, such as electroencephalograms (EEG), electrocardiograms (ECG), and pupillometry, combined with innovations in sensor fusion, signal processing, and neural analytics, and will use advances in machine learning and data science.
“NEAT is an exciting program to leverage our expertise and expand to a new and impactful domain while pushing the envelope on the underlying science about preconscious indicators and the ways in which we can assess and measure them,” said Knaack.
Joining Draper in this effort are researchers and clinicians from leading U.S. institutions. They include Diego A. Pizzagalli, Ph.D., of McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School; Dan Dillon, Ph.D., also of McLean Hospital; Anna Wexler, Ph.D., at the University of Pennsylvania; Gene Civillico, Ph.D., at Northeastern University; Paola Pedrelli, Ph.D., at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital; and Omer Inan, Ph.D., from the Georgia Institute of Technology.