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Toronto hospital to use AI, computer science to understand mental health better

TORONTO – Sean Hill believes that mental crisis can be improved by leveraging large data.

The Toronto researcher says harvesting all available information on the field – whether collected by clinics or trapped in the patient's genes and neurons – helps respond to the major issues of mental disturbance. Mental health research, he says, must be transformed into a data-driven science.

"Right now, mental illnesses are defined in terms of symptoms and we want to define them based on biological mechanisms," says Hill. "It's the sacred degree of where we want to go."

And that's what Krembil Center for Neuroinformatics, openly official Thursday at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, promises to do. One of the goals of the new research hub is to combine machine learning and computer science and apply it to neuroscience.

The Centre's team consists of researchers from Canada, USA, USA, Israel and Romania.

The researchers will focus on several areas, including computational genomics that analyze the relationship between genes, cells, and brain circuits, says Hill, who will lead the team. Another group will build brain circuit simulations, while another will focus on linking genes to brain anatomy.

And perhaps the team's most ambitious project is "modest modeling".

This is where a team will try to understand all the data the Center collects, from demographic to brain formation to genomic information along with a person's exercise and sleep patterns.

"How do we take into account all these individual aspects and build a calculation model that can help us understand risk factors and best practices for treatment?" Asked Hill.

He believes that the project would not be possible outside a hospital setting.

"There are just too many challenges about access to and control of the data, and you still have to have very close cooperation with clinics anyway," says Hill. Being in the same hospital really facilitates it.

The team has already started collecting data.

Researchers work with clinics that specialize in major depressive disorders to track patients' progress. Patients now use tablets to fill out forms before each visit that helps understand how the individual is doing compared to previous visits, how they respond to medication or therapy, and the like.

"We provide a custom digital dashboard to the clinics so they have a tool with a deeper view of the patients' progress and pathways and use it in the treatment," Hill said.

"What we really want to do is increase the level of personalization of care."

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