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MRFF grants fund AI research collaborations 

Creative research partnerships harness AI technology

Medical Research Futures Fund awards $7.9m to Brain and Mind Centre’s multidisciplinary research into neurological and mental health disorders.

The research programs, awarded by the Australian Government’s Medical Research Futures Fund (MRFF) and announced by Health Minister Greg Hunt this week, support collaborative research projects that bring AI technology out of the lab and into clinical and public partnerships – unlocking key questions for treatments in Multiple Sclerosis, youth mental health, and childhood development.

Brain and Mind Centre co-Director and head of Translational Research, Matthew Kiernan, said the MRFF grants support the scope and capacity for creative research afforded by multidisciplinary research.

“Patient-centred research draws on collaborations across disciplines and sectors, and with these MRFF projects we continue to stretch those collaborations – we’re now working with engineers, economists, physicists, local and international community partners and health providers – who bring a unique depth of knowledge to each program.

“Significantly, the research awarded in this round take AI in very different directions, to ultimately benefit clinical outcomes for people diagnosed with MS, and mental health outcomes for young people. We’re excited to see this research take shape in the clinical and public health sphere.”

The $4.02 million biomarker program – TRANSCEND (Translating AI Networks to Support Clinical Excellence in Neuro Diseases) is a partnership between the Brain and Mind Centre’s Computational Neuroscience researchers, Sydney Neuroimaging Analysis Centre (SNAC) and health provider networks. Project partners will build a new hybrid learning system to look deep within the brain for disease biomarkers. These biomarkers, which signify progression of the disease beyond clinical presentation, make early diagnosis and intervention possible and will change the course of MS for people diagnosed with the disease.

Co-Director, Mental Health and Policy, Professor Ian Hickie, said the $3.1 million youth mental health will see mathematicians, statisticians and data analysts working with the Brain and Mind Centre’s Youth Mental Health Team to develop a dynamic AI infrastructure: “A useful tool to inform the best timing and sequence of mental health interventions, particularly for people with complex needs.

“From a clinical perspective, these new approaches could result in real-time decision aids that would help us to make much more accurate decisions about which early interventions are of greatest benefit to young people with emerging major mood or psychotic disorders. They will also guide our efforts to provide the most effective forms of secondary prevention.”

In total, three Brain and Mind Centre programs received funding from the Australian Government’s MRFF grants. Professor Mark Dadds, head of the Child Behaviour Research Clinic located at the Brain and Mind Centre, was also awarded a MRFF grant for neurological disorders and researchers from the Brain and Mind Centre’s Child Development team will be working with chief Investigators from Deakin University on a transcranial magnetic stimulation study for adolescents and  young adults with autism spectrum disorder.

The research awarded in this round take AI in very different directions, to ultimately benefit clinical outcomes for people diagnosed with MS, and mental health outcomes for young people. We’re excited to see this research take shape in the clinical and public health sphere.”
Prof Matthew Kiernan

Creative Collaborations for AI Brain and Mind Research – project details

“Software-generated ‘artificial neural networks’ have demonstrated a remarkable capacity for (generic) image recognition. Despite the clear potential for this technology to transform health delivery, particularly through advances in medical imaging, AI research and implementation has remained the purview of research institutes and technology companies with limited access to real-world data.

TRANSCEND will redress this imbalance by building a new, hybrid AI learning ecosystem that links a premiere research institute (University of Sydney) and industry specialist (Sydney Neuroimaging Analysis Centre) with health provider networks (IMED Radiology and clinical Neurology partners) to generate clinically-relevant biomarkers of disease progression for the common, disabling neurological condition, multiple sclerosis. 

The project will establish a unique central-federated AI learning environment, yielding algorithms that, validated in a clinical neurology environment, will set a benchmark in diagnostic MS imaging; track subclinical progression of the disease; direct therapeutic strategy; and mine untapped quantitative imaging data. Our novel approach will enable new AI research and technologies within the health sector, while preserving patient privacy and data security.”

Professor Michael Barnett, Chief Investigator for TRANSCEND, head of Computational Neuroscience at the Brain and Mind Centre and in partnership with Sydney Neuroimaging Analysis Centre (SNAC)

“Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability and death among young people. A key challenge for youth mental health care is how to make effective clinical decisions about the timing and sequence of interventions, particularly for those with complex needs. This three-year project will use AI to model youth mental health outcomes and quantify the impact of interventions on these outcomes.

This will provide the foundation for a decision-support tool that leverages health information technologies and data science methods to improve clinical decision-making in health services. to translate innovative machine learning and systems simulation modelling into useful clinical tools for youth mental health care.

We are excited to be working with Professor Sally Cripps, director of the University of Sydney Centre for Translational Data Science and the ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Data Analytics for Resources and Environments.  This work will develop an important workforce of Early Career Researchers, data scientists and computer scientists based at the Brain and Mind Centre, who will work together with clinicians, Sydney Local Health District and young people. With this grant we look forward to building on the multidisciplinary collaborations we have established between capabilities in complex systems science, health services research and health information technologies.

Dr Frank Iorfino, Research Fellow, Youth Mental Health and Technology at the Brain and Mind Centre

The Brain and Mind Centre’s Child researchers will be working with Chief Investigators from Deakin University, on the rTMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) study for adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Professor Mark Dadds, head of the Child Behaviour Research Clinic located at the Brain and Mind Centre, was awarded an $800,000 MRFF grant for neurological disorders. His project will trial a new intervention for childhood autism spectrum disorders.  

“This project will test an innovative parenting intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) so that it is ready for national and international dissemination. We will use data from the trial to better inform how different elements of treatment can produce positive outcomes for young children with autism. This will be the first integrated treatment program of its kind made available to parents and families of people with ASD.

This unique program targets and is effective in creating synergistic change in core ASD symptoms, associated behavioural regulation problems, and family adjustment to having a child with ASD. It is brief and implemented without creating an unnecessary commitment and burden on f amilies and is compatible with the recent review and recommendations for improving the NDIS by providing greater flexibility, empowerment and skills development to parents.

It is not, and will not be, copyright protected, and thus is ready for national roll-out without incurring training and delivery costs to parents and the Australian public health system.”

Professor Mark Dadds