University receives $5.9M grant for neuroimaging, clinical research into mood disorders

The National Institute of Mental Health has awarded the University of Illinois at Chicago a $5.9 million grant for two studies that will investigate mood disorders, with the help of neuroimaging.

“Mood disorders are one of the highest contributors of disability in the world,” Olusola Ajilore, MD, PhD, director of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at UIC, said in a statement. “Despite successful treatment of mood disorder in patients, cognitive disturbances can persist and are highly associated with relapses.”

According to the university, it will use $2.8 million of the grant over five years for its Recurrence Markers, Cognitive Burden, and Neurobiological Homeostasis in Late-Life Depression (REMBRANDT) study. For this investigation, older adults with late-life depression who have been in remission for two years will undergo clinical exams to assess their mood, psychological state, and cognition.

These appointments will take place in two-week cycles every eight months. Participants’ brain connectivity will also be monitored via structural and functional MRI. This data, Ajilore says, will show whether monitoring patients can predict and prevent relapses.

For the second project, the team will use $3.1 million over five years to focus on younger adults with depression, bipolar disorder or dysthymia.

The Unobtrusive Monitoring of Affective Symptoms and Cognition using Keyboard Dynamics (UnMASCK) study will “passively” gauge participants’ smartphone usage, typing rhythm and accuracy, and spell-checking via an in-house BiAffect app. Prior research has established a correlation between these features and manic or depressive episodes, Ajilore noted.

That information will also be paired with brain imaging and other data to assess if cognitive dysfunction is evident in typing behavior and can be predictive of future symptoms.

“By examining cognitive dysfunction patterns within an individual, we can develop better risk assessment tools that will allow quick therapeutic interventions before relapses occur,” Ajilore added. “Ultimately, this will help the psychiatry field in personalizing treatments, leading to better patient outcomes.”