Mass General Hospital teams with MIT spinoff Cogito on behavioral health analyzer

Program hopes to tackle depression and bipolar disorders with an app designed to use voice patterns to detect emotions.
By Bernie Monegain
11:00 AM

Massachusetts General Hospital and Cogito have partnered on a National Institute of Mental Health-funded project aimed at addressing depression and bipolar disorder.

MGH is the largest hospital in the Bay State, and serves as the teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School. Cogito, a startup spinoff from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, specializes in behavioral analytics.

"We focus on automatically measuring behavior and understanding behavior," said Cogito CEO Joshua Feast. "We're interested in the way people move and react. On the healthcare front, Cogito technologies are aimed at helping organizations understand, manage and care for patients.

[Also: Behavioral health data 'burdens EHRs']

In its work with MGH, Cogito will deploy Cogito's Companion app, designed to analyze voice patterns to detect emotions.

When you look at depression or bipolar disorder, one of the key goals is to prevent people from relapsing, said Thilo Deckersbach, MD, who is leading the new study and is associate professor, Harvard Medical School.

"One of the ways to do that," he said, "is to keep an eye on their mood. You have to make sure they pay attention to it to make sure it doesn't creep in because the sooner you can intervene, the better your chances are to prevent a recurrence of depression or to prevent a recurrence of mania. So, it's all about prevention."

However, Deckersbach said that humans – with or without behavioral disorders –  are good at tracking at the beginning, but as time goes by, they forget.

[Also: $1.3 million in EHR grants for behavioral health]

"It's where Cogito and the Companion as a platform come into the game," he said. "If you can devise a method that a smartphone does the job for you, and you do not need to track your mood every day, then you have achieved something that is highly sensitive, highly reliable that you can detect your mood early and prevent depression or mania."

MGH's MoodNetwork is a nationwide patient-powered system and a critical engine to help power the new research initiative, which is funded through a $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Worldwide, about 350 million people suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization, and bipolar disorder affects more than 5.7 million American adults.

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The project, which is open to 1,000 MoodNetwork participants, will provide real-time mood feedback to patients based on daily audio diaries recorded via Cogito Companion, an application on patients' mobile devices. The initiative will track key behavioral indicators, such as physical isolation, social connectedness and fatigue – the major symptom groups for mood disorder. The intent is to create health data set aimed at improving the experiences of people with depression and bipolar disorder.

"While many expect that physical disorders would solely account for disability, major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder are among the top causes globally," Andrew A. Nierenberg, MD, director of the Bipolar Research Program at MGH, and principal investigator of MoodNetwork, said in a statement.

"The goal of this initiative is to understand symptom relapse over the lifecycle of these conditions and offer long-term care and support options for patients. With the yearly combined annual cost of depression and bipolar disorder at greater than $200 billion, we hope to bend the care and cost curve with the help of behavioral analytics synched to this patient population."

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