Using AI to deliver best treatment quickly

Artificial intelligence will determine appropriate therapies for university students experiencing psychological distress. 

Artificial intelligence

A project using AI techniques has received $5 million in funding to investigate mental health therapies.

A project addressing the extensive psychological distress of young people in universities will use AI techniques to determine which psychological therapies work best for different people.

The $5 million funding for the project comes as part of the Commonwealth government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Artificial Intelligence call, as part of the digital health intelligence priority stream. The project will be led by the Black Dog Institute, UNSW Sydney and Deakin University.

In the first of the studies, university students will choose from a range of potentially effective programs. AI-driven adaptive trial methods will then be used to determine which of a series of therapeutic interventions lead to the best outcomes in this group. It will explore whether these therapies benefit some groups more than others and identify specific student characteristics that are associated with better response to therapy.

Mental health problems, such as psychological distress are the largest of all health disorders, globally, affecting 792 million people. A major problem in tackling these disorders is the selection of effective treatments.

“The institute is grateful to have secured this funding to undercover the best therapeutic interventions for distress, anxiety and depression. This funding can shorten the time people are provided with mental health treatments which do not help them,” Scientia Professor Helen Christensen, Director of the Black Dog Institute, said.

“Most psychological interventions for mental health problems are only partially effective. Artificial intelligence techniques can be used to help determine which of a range of therapies is most effective and for whom. AI can also be used to personalise treatments to individual characteristics.”

It is hoped this project could pave the way for other areas of health to use AI techniques too.

“The AI developed for this project can be used in other significant health challenges where time and cost in identifying which care strategies work best are an issue. Other health challenges that stand to benefit include the management of diabetes, neurological conditions, addiction, and medications, sleep treatment, and primary care health promotion,” Laurette Professor Svetha Venkatesh of Deakin University said.

The research is also partnered with Macquarie University’s Centre for the Health Economy (MUCHE), Australia Psychological Society (APS), The Garvan Institute and the Australian Medical Association (AMA).