UCLA has launched a major new study, sponsored by and in collaboration with Apple, designed to help revolutionize the detection and treatment of depression.
The three-year study, which begins this week, was co-designed by researchers at UCLA and Apple to provide objective measures of factors such as sleep, physical activity, heart rate and daily routines to shed light on the relationship between these factors and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The research will use Apple technology including the iPhone, Apple Watch and a Beddit sleep monitoring device.
Bill Kisliuk for UCLA:
Making the connection between quantifiable data and symptoms of anxiety and depression can enable healthcare professionals to mark warning signs and prevent outbreaks of depressive episodes, track the effectiveness of treatment and identify causes of depression.
“As a neuroscientist by training with expertise in sleep, I am incredibly excited about this collaboration and hope that it will lead to significant advances in mental health research,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block.
Dr. Nelson Freimer, a prominent professor of psychiatry and director of the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge, is the principal investigator of the study.
“This collaboration, which leverages UCLA’s deep research expertise and Apple’s innovative technology, has the potential to transform behavioral health research and clinical care,” Freimer said. “Current approaches to treating depression rely almost exclusively on the subjective memory of depression sufferers. This is an important step in achieving objective and precise measurements that guide both diagnosis and treatment. “
The study is the latest milestone for the Depression Grand Challenge, an ambitious UCLA initiative involving researchers from across disciplines to identify genetic and environmental factors that contribute to depression, understand the biological changes that depression causes in the brain and body, speed up the progress of diagnosis and treatment and end the stigma associated with the disorder. UCLA chose to take on this challenge because depression affects more than 300 million people worldwide, resulting in nearly 1 million suicides a year.
The pilot phase of the study, which involved 150 participants recruited from UCLA Health patients, begins this week. The main phases, which will take place from 2021 to 2023, will involve around 3,000 participants, drawn from both UCLA health patients and the UCLA student body.
Participants must download a research app on their personal iPhones. They will receive an Apple Watch and Beddit sleep monitor, which they will use during the study. Participants will share relevant information through periodic clinical interviews and questionnaires, as well as data obtained from telephone, clock and sleep monitor.
Freimer emphasizes that ensuring the privacy and security of participants’ data is a high priority for both UCLA and Apple. UCLA will process and maintain study data in a secure environment, with limited access to members of UCLA’s research team. UCLA and Apple will analyze the data only after it has been coded and stripped of names and other contact information.
The study comes when the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life and encouraged focus on anxiety and depression, and when physical distance requirements have made scientific research challenging.
“UCLA and Apple have designed this study so that all aspects of participation can be achieved remotely,” Freimer said. “The pandemic has increased anxiety and depression globally, and has increased awareness of the importance of behavioral health for general well-being. At the same time, physical distance requirements have limited assessment and treatment of mental health, leading to expanded use and acceptance of telehealth. These changes highlight the importance of incorporate technologies such as those to be tested in this study into clinical research and ultimately into practice. ”
MacDailyNews Take: If they want to track depression, they should use Android phones, Galaxy Watches and Fitbits.
All cuts aside, depression and anxiety are serious diseases, and the world should welcome any insight into the great studies that these can provide.