Research: Using artificial intelligence and brain stimulation to improve treatment for psychosis

A new grant from CIHR in collaboration with the EU consortium has provided a total of $2.1 million to establish a network of research centres focused on personalized medicine for mental disorders.

Leading the Canadian arm of the project is Dr. Lena Palaniyappan, associate professor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and scientist at Robarts Research Institute, who is using Artificial Intelligence to help personalize treatment for patients with psychosis.

In collaboration with five European centres, Dr. Palaniyappan and a team at Robarts Research Institute and St. Joseph’s Health Care London (St. Joseph’s) will be collecting brain scans and genetic information from more than 60,000 patients in order to understand the relationship between genetics and brain development. 

“The study itself involves collecting neuroimaging and genetic information from multiple sites in order to understand the mechanisms of mental illness,” said Dr. Palaniyappan. “The translational portion of this is applying this information to clinic. How genes and brain networks interact to cause mental disorders, and how we can use this information to match patients to specific treatment choices.”

The group is specifically studying a treatment called magnetic stimulation which will be delivered within the mental health care program at St. Joseph’s Parkwood Institute in collaboration with Dr. Amer Burhan. The treatment uses focused magnetic pulses that stimulate a specific group of neurons. Dr. Palaniyappan says the treatment is very effective, but only in one-third of patients.

“We want to know if there are clear markers that show who will respond to this treatment, and who will not. This will help reduce the burden of failed treatment trials for this challenging illness,” said Dr. Palaniyappan.

To enable this, the researchers will look for patterns in a very large amount of imaging and clinical data collected in Europe and Canada. That’s where Artificial Intelligence comes in. In order to understand the patterns that are clinically useful, they use a technique called Machine Learning that trains a computer to recognize expected patterns and then make predictions for new patients.

The data is being collected from six centres, coordinated by Dr. Emanuel Schwarz at the University of Heidelberg, Mannheim, Germany. In addition to the centre here in London, Ontario, other partners include Munich, Germany; Oslo, Norway; Rotterdam, Netherlands; and Montpellier, France.

 The research project will also mean that this form of magnetic stimulation treatment will be offered for psychosis patients in London for the first time.

“Magnetic brain stimulation is a safe and well-tolerated treatment that is used currently in London to treat depression, but now we will be able to offer this to patients with psychosis as well,” said Dr. Palaniyappan.

 The project will begin in May 2019 and will continue until the end of 2022.