A new health technology project in Hong Kong has received substantial public funding to implement an AI-based data-driven approach to mental health diagnosis and treatment. The project, led by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, has been granted over HK$37 million ($4.7 million) from the Strategic Topics Grant of Hong Kong’s Research Grants Council.

The main objective of the project is to integrate AI, genomic, and biomedical technologies to support the diagnosis and personalized therapy of major psychiatric disorders. The research will begin by identifying genetic disease biomarkers and brain activity patterns to categorize psychiatric disorders into distinct groups. Additionally, the project will explore the long-term effects of stress on these diseases and their inheritance, in order to gain a better understanding of the disease mechanism. The insights gained from these activities will then be combined to guide the diagnosis and personalized treatment of mental health disorders.

A total of 20 investigators and collaborators from eight institutions in Hong Kong, mainland China, and the United States will be involved in the project.

This project is of significant importance as approximately 13% of the Hong Kong population is affected by major psychiatric disorders such as major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. However, less than 40% of individuals with these disorders are able to fully manage their symptoms after initial treatment. To address this issue, the researchers from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University aim to shift from a symptom-based approach to an AI-based, data-driven approach, which will improve the diagnosis, study, and personalized treatment of mental health disorders.

The use of AI in mental healthcare has been a growing trend in the Asia-Pacific region. Recently, a multinational research team led by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology developed a deep learning model for predicting the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Another example is the deep-learning-based online test by Hong Kong-based Deep Longevity, which can generate personalized programs for patients. Singapore-based Opsis Emotion AI has also developed emotional analysis technology for diagnosing mental health conditions in seniors.

Project lead, Weixiong Zhang, who is the chair professor of Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics at PolyU, emphasized the multidisciplinary nature of the project and its potential to address the urgent need for new technologies to improve mental healthcare not only in Hong Kong but also globally.

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