UIC App Designed to Track Bipolar Disorder Wins $200K Grant

The BiAffect app is the winner in a contest using Apple’s Research Kit, an open source tool for creating apps, to study mood disorders.

University of Illinois at Chicago researchers have developed an app that may be able to predict manic episodes and depressive moods in people with bipolar disorder, based on how they interact with their cellphones.

“We’re tracking how they’re navigating the keyboard, the actual pixels they’re touching,” said Dr. Alex Leow, an associate professor of psychiatry at UIC who helped develop the BiAffect app, told Chicago Tonight in January. “The overarching goal as I see it is to better understand the relationship between mood and cognition.”

The BiAffect app is the winner in a contest using Apple’s Research Kit, an open source tool for creating apps, to study mood disorders. Researchers will receive a $200,000 grand prize to publicly launch their app.

Leow describes the app as a “fitness tracker” for the brain that researchers could use to study mood disorders as well as the cognitive effects of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Leow, along with UIC College of Engineering Dean Peter Nelson and a team of researchers, developed the BiAffect app to track and predict mood episodes by analyzing keystroke dynamics, such as typing speed and errors.

In a pilot study of 30 participants, researchers found typing speed, frequency of texting and social media usage correlated with manic and depressive episodes in people with bipolar disorder.

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