#IUAChangeMakers Neureka, Trinity College Dublin
How the brain works: addressing mental health - Trinity Research Stories
The Neureka Project
The Neureka Project is run by researchers from the Gillan Lab at the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) in Trinity College Dublin. The project combines mobile technology with citizen science to help create a clearer picture of what keeps the brain healthy. The Neureka App asks members of the public to participate in neuroscience research at home, by playing games and tracking their mood and behaviour over time. With thousands of people already involved, this ‘big data’ helps researchers figure out new ways of keeping mental health problems at bay, and promoting resilience to late life cognitive decline. In the longer term, we hope to use data from neureka to screen for individuals at risk of developing mental health disorders or dementia.
At neureka, we have harnessed the power of the digital age to create a fleet of citizen scientists who help us develop new tools to detect disorders of the mind. By providing a platform for disseminating research, implementing detection tools, and trialling new interventions, we believe neureka can dramatically accelerate the transition from bench to bedside. We envision a future where people from all walks of life are fully engaged in a radically new digital public health ecosystem. In this ecosystem, users provide data about themselves and play games to not only help science move forward in a dynamic, responsive way, but at the same time provides insights to users that they can action TODAY.
Brain health is complex. While research has identified numerous risk factors for dementia and mental health conditions, progress has stalled with the realisation that each risk factor contributes just a small amount to overall risk. What’s more, we know complex interactions exist between risk factors, but we rarely have enough data to dissect these and extract clinical value. We need substantially larger and more diverse datasets to leverage the tools of data science to translate these insights into clinical actionables. This is where neureka comes in!
Neureka is a novel tool that can be used for screening for brain health disorders across large samples around the world and be a valuable means of identifying at-risk individuals. Through the use of smartphone technology, neureka can aid in the assessment brain health disorders at a scale that is not currently possible using current methods such as brain scans or face-to-screening. This can be done in a manner that is synergistic, inexpensive, and globally scalable.
Help Solve the Biggest Mysteries in Brain Science
At Neureka, we want to conduct the largest and most detailed study of YOU that has ever been attempted. By playing games and telling us how you feel, day by day, we aim to figure out how disorders of the mind evolve over time. We want to know why some people are more resilient than others, how emotions like mood, irritability and motivation interact with one another and the environment and how they can kick-start vicious cycles that are difficult to break free from.
50 million are currently living with dementia, a figure which is set to increase substantially as worldwide populations age and people live longer. Dementia differs from normal aging in that our cognitive functions, or how we think and remember things about ourselves and others, begin to breakdown. We have some theories as to why this happens and in some specific cases what might prevent it but we simply don't know enough to help the millions of people who suffer from dementia on a daily basis. However, all is not lost, what we do know is that that there may be early warning signs which if detected, could allow us to put treatments in place years before disease onset.
Mental health conditions affect 1 in 4 people around the world. Through decades of research, we have identified important risk factors for mental health like early stress or neglect, and have built an enormous body of knowledge regarding cognitive and brain changes that go hand in hand with mental illness. This research has typically taken a bird’s eye view - studying groups of people and looking for associations with diagnostic categories like depression. Unfortunately, it has proven difficult to use these insights to make predictions about individuals.
How can you help?
You can help by downloading neureka and joining the Citizen Science movement! Citizen science asks you, whoever you are, wherever you arem and whatever your background, to help us tackle some of the biggest challenges facing society today.