Pioneering digital health research project gets underway

The AffecTech project publically launched in September 2017, following the recruitment of the project’s research team. AffecTech principal academic, Professor Corina Sas made the following address at the event in Lancaster, UK, which we publish below as it provides a useful overview of the project background, and aims. Wishing everyone a peaceful and successful 2018!

EC funded research training project via the Marie Curie Innovative Training Networks

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today to launch the Marie Curie Innovative Training Network AffecTech: Personal Technologies for Affective Health, with a budget of 3.88 million Euros.

To set the background, let me tell you that Marie Curie actions funded by EC aim to support the career development and training of researchers in all scientific disciplines through international and intersectoral mobility. By funding excellent research and offering attractive working conditions, they aim to maximise the employability of their researchers, any age, nationality or discipline.

In particular, the Innovative Training Networks are developed to respond to current interdisciplinary and societal needs. They are unique in their approach to PhD training because they innovative doctoral training programmes offered jointly by partner institutions in order to maximise researchers’ employability.

Mental health: a pressing global societal problem

With respect to the Affectech, the societal need we aim to address is the vast social and economic cost of affective disorders, estimated by 2020 to be the highest-ranking cause of disease in the developed world. In particular anxiety, depression and bipolar disorders are the most prevalent ones with over 33m diagnosed people whose yearly healthcare costs exceed €100 Billion.

To address this need, AffecTech will advance the interdisciplinary research of personal technologies for affective health to support people’s monitoring, understanding, and regulating emotions in daily life. This emphasis on emotion regulation is the key innovation of our consortium, positioning it at the cutting edge of the total recall and quantified self movement with their rather limited emphasis on data capture. While we will build on technologies which capture emotional related data, we will also move beyond, towards developing more integrative technologies. These will both capture such data but more importantly will help people understand and take control of their emotion in socially appropriate manner.

This has the potential for significant social impact because emotional awareness and regulation are invaluable for daily functioning yet challenging to acquire. More importantly, their impairment relates strongly to affective disorders.

Utilising innovative technologies, research and development to deliver social impact

To achieve its aim, AffecTech will focus on the design, development, and evaluation low-cost personal technologies such as bio-sensing wearables, tangible interfaces and mobile apps. These will ensure three functionalities: capture emotional responses and their regulation, mirror them back to people in different modalities such as visual interfaces, sound or haptics, to help people understand their emotion and regulation processes; and provide a loop to assist people to train their adaptive emotion regulation strategies.

To achieve its objectives, the project brings together researchers and practitioners from these disciplines: Human-Computer Interaction, Biomedical Engineering, and Clinical Psychology, from 11 partner institutions: Lancaster University which coordinates the project, Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Trinity College Dublin, University of Oxford, University of Pisa, Universidad Jaume I of Castellón (UJI) in Valencia, Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Bogazici University in Istanbul, Philips Research, The Netherlands, NHS Leeds, and PLUX Wireless Biosignals in Lisbon.

Investment in partnership and collaboration and the development of outstanding research talent

We also have several associated partners which are not funded directly by the project but provide input with key expertise in our research training programme. Such associate partners include prestigious institutions such as Stanford University, CMU, UCSC and UNSW as well as over 10 industrial partners which will provide secondment opportunities to our students.

AffecTech consortium offers a joint research training programme consisting of 6 week-long events and three conferences to our 15 PhD students – can you please raise your hand, so that people know who you are? These young researchers have been selected through a very competitive process, and they all great potential to become high flyers in either academia or industry. I take this opportunity to once again welcome you all to the AffecTech consortium!

They are all here because this week we are running at Lancaster the first training event. The focus of this event is on the Principles of designing interfaces to motivate and support emotional processing offering a mix of lectures, biosensors hackathon and design workshop. We are delighted to announce that this event is part of AffecTech’s contribution to celebrate the World Mental Health Day promoted annually by the World Health Organisation on the 10th of Oct to raise awareness of mental health and mobilise efforts in support of mental health.

AffecTech is a four year project which has started in Jan 2017, but its research training programme starts this September once most of the PhD students have been recruited.

Embracing excellence in digital health, ensuring users needs and rights are paramount

I am very pleased to welcome you all for joining us on this start of our AffecTech journey. We have here academics interested in health from a diverse disciplines ranging from medical science, psychology, linguistics, management, material science, biomedical engineering and computer science. We also have practitioners in psychotherapy, members of mental health charities, graphic designers, and entrepreneurs in digital health.

I invite you to consider how you could contribute to AffecTech project if you wish to. We are looking for opportunities to engage with people suffering from affective disorders and in particular depression, anxiety, and bipolar conditions; to engage with psychotherapists working on training emotion regulation, and in about 2 years time to engage with policy makers towards informing digital mental health practices.

To conclude, since the WHY is clear to us all, we are now faced with the HOW. For each of the 15 PhD projects there will be many trajectories leading to a range of technology prototypes. The mix of strong academic and industry expertise available in consortium will successfully guide them towards the best trajectories while accounting for scientific rigour, creative design, and much sensitivity to the people we are designing for.

I have confidence that we will achieve our objectives so please watch AffecTech space because good things are to come!

Welcome, and let us enjoy the stimulating networking opportunities we have here and now!