Tuesday, 27 May 2014


New analytical tool speeds up research on youth mental illness

Mental illness is the number one health issue facing young Australians aged 12 to 15, affecting 26 percent of young Australian in any year. Mental illness may lead to depression, psychosis, alcohol and other drug issues and self-harm.  Mental illness developed during adolescence may stay with a person for life if the person doesn’t get help and the right treatment.

In partnership with Headspace Services (youth mental health http://www.headspace.org.au), researchers from the Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI) have set up the Healthy Brain Ageing program. This brings together patients, support groups and front-line carers with scientists and clinicians working in neurosciences and brain research to provide hope for those affected. 

A part of this research program involves collection, collating and analysis of dispersed clinic data, 3D MRI imaging and neurological & electrophysiological testing data sets for the purpose of providing a refined answer to complex research questions.

This automation of data linkages was not previously possible using the separately existing (and expanding) data sets making use of brain scans across the clinical research programs at BMRI. Collecting and collating data are time consuming. For example, in order to read the MRI image, researchers need to pre-process the raw MRI image from the scanner. Professor Jim Lagopoulos spends hours and hours a week just on doing the pre- processing because he is the only person who has the expertise to do it quickly.

A project “Brain and Mind Data Linkage" led by the BMRI and funded by the Australian National Data Service is changing that.  The project developed an integration tool for the multiple data sets and data points within those data sets, and an analytical tool for interrogating the data in response to specific research questions. For example, researchers at the BMRI are trying to establish if there is a characteristic pattern that emerges from MRI structural imaging data and a specific electrophysiological component that predicts with some degree of accuracy a clinical phenotype, such as depression in young people.

Associate Professor Jim Lagopoulos from BMRI said “The application will provide an environment for integrated research data sets that can be expanded and used for future research projects. The application will also allow the integration of data set from other clinical researchers and makes the larger data set available through research collaborations which was achieved by linking to the National Imaging Facility (NIF) and has also enabled a University of Sydney wide imaging platform.”

On top of the data integration and analysis, the application will also provide a platform for the development of information based diagnostic and treatment response algorithms for young people with major mental health problems like depression and psychotic disorders.

BMRI Research Fellow Daniel Hermens says “The application will improve the process efficiency by replacing the manual pre – processing to an automated pre- processing based on the researcher’s requirement.  Moreover, system integrates multiple sources of records and presents the summery of linked records according to user’s query, giving the user an overall view of related records. This automated functionality is previously not existed in this research field of BMRI the University of Sydney.”

The Brain and Mind Data Linkage application will be one of those tools that facilitate researchers understanding of variations in the brain’s structure, function and neurochemistry and consequently make a real impact on the way mental illnesses are diagnosed, treated and prevented.

The BMRI invites researchers to consider the possibilities of using AP24 for their own research projects. Associate Professor Jim Lagopoulos and BMRI Research Fellow Daniel Hermens, who helped develop AP24, say the application is not limited to clinical research, and can benefit other disciplines.

This project was supported by the Australian National Data Service (ANDS). ANDS is supported by the Australian Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy Program and the Education Investment Fund (EIF) Super Science Initiative.

Find out more.

Posted by Neal Anderson May 28th, 2014

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