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DGC Director Nelson Freimer spotlights ongoing DGC research on depression causes in Semel Institute presentation

Dr. Nelson B. Freimer, UCLA Depression Grand Challenge director, highlighted current DGC research in a lecture titled “Transformations Coming to Psychiatric Assessment: The Role of Genetics and Digital Technologies” on Apr. 18, 2023.

The hour long lecture was organized as part of the Semel Grand Rounds series and covered Freimer’s research as principal investigator on the DGC’s ongoing Digital Mental Health Study, which uses smartphones and wearable devices to collect data with the purpose of predicting depression trajectories and identifying subtypes of depression.

Freimer highlighted the DGC’s approach in zeroing in on technologies that are already in use by billions globally, and their potential to aid in real-world assessment for mental illness.

With the vast amounts of information able to be collected from these devices, objective measures of factors such as sleep, physical activity, heart rate and daily routines can illuminate the relationship between these factors and symptoms of depression and anxiety, Freimer explained.

“My hope is that assessments using these tools can address major clinical gaps,” Freimer said in his presentation. “They could provide a low-cost, low-burden means of screening for symptoms and behaviors linked to mental illness. With their potential to provide real-time information on how behaviors change over time; we can know who’s at risk or who needs help immediately — we’d be able to identify behaviors that could predict a crisis before it happens.

“And ultimately, I hope these devices will enable us to identify subtypes of patients based on symptom clusters, making treatment for mental illness even more precise.”

Read more about the study at UCLA Newsroom.