The following is an excerpt of SDRC Annual Report 2021/22 which provides on overview of the research in the field of brain health Informatics & Technology, written by theme lead and SDRC Executive Committee member Dr Mario Parra Rodriguez.
The SDRC is witnessing a rapid expansion of Informatics and Healthcare Technologies to support dementia prevention, care and cure and to promote brain health. Such a growth has been certainly catalysed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have decided to take a leap and expand our theme to create opportunities to celebrate and support research happening within Health Information Technologies and Healthcare Technologies. The Healthcare Technologies arm of our Theme will support research targeting the development and application of organized knowledge and skills in the form of devices, including computer-supported information systems, to tackle brain health problems and improve quality of life. The Health Information Technologies arm of the Theme aims to support research harnessing the power and possibilities of digital technologies that are able to transform data and information into knowledge1. Scotland holds the potential be an international hub for information sciences and healthcare technologies.
In line with the aims of the Scottish Brain Health and Dementia Research Strategy, the Theme has endeavoured to increase the diversity of researchers to achieve a better representation of the relevant communities in research design, delivery, implementation and evaluation. We want to promote and encourage collaboration among different disciplines and break down silos between universities in Scotland and foster and showcase the benefits of a collegiate rather than competitive ethos. To these aims, the Theme is engaging in fruitful discussions with the Digital Health and Care Innovation Centre (DHI). By interacting with the DHI’s Healthy Ageing Innovation Cluster, we have identified synergies among our efforts to deliver digital solutions for healthy ageing. We are now exploring pathways to strengthen our partnership and deliver impactful activities.
Research Happening within the Theme
The SDRC envisages that by leveraging the power of these research arms, more opportunities will be created to explore synergies and expand developments across them. Ongoing work supports this view. Members of the SDRC have been advancing groundbreaking research in the field of Digital Speech and Language based Biomarkers for Dementia,, as well as Machine Learning systems. Researchers from the Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh are co-leading a project aimed at leveraging innovations in the use of cross-lingual embeddings coupled with deep neural networks to allow existing monolingual resources to be used across languages. The EMBEDDIA Project involves academic and industry partners interested in the development of solutions for under-represented languages and bring them to real-world contexts. The group is also interested in identifying what outcomes matter to patients with dementia and use those to aid individuals in the pre-dementia stages. They developed the Electronic Person-Specific Outcome Measure (ePSOM) Programme which uses clustering and Natural Language Processing techniques to identify themes which matter most to individuals when developing new treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease. Early Career Researchers at the University of Strathclyde have been exploring the role of social media platforms with regard to caregivers to garner their attitude towards dementia-related posts. They aim to create awareness, mitigate potential misinformation, and facilitate future strategies that involve research users. Two aspects of these Health Information Technologies projects resonate with the Scottish Brain Health and Dementia Research Strategy, support to and development of Early Career Researchers and involvement of people as co-designers, co-producers and co-beneficiaries of research work.
Within Healthcare Technologies, the SDRC recently welcomed the news about a research grant awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), to support collaborative work between the National Robotarium at Heriot-Watt University and the Applied Cognition Lab at the University of Strathclyde. Researchers at these institutions are developing AMPER, an Agent-based Memory Prosthesis to Encourage Reminiscing for people with dementia, . AMPER will take an AI-driven, user-centred approach and will focus on personalised storytelling to help bring a patient’s memories back to the surface. The partnership between the National Robotarium at Heriot-Watt University and the University of Strathclyde is also yielding timely solutions to mitigate the impact of challenges such as those imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The interdisciplinary group is pioneering intelligent sensing and tele-presence robotic technology to allow health practitioners to remotely assess a person’s physical and cognitive health from anywhere in the world, . At the University of Edinburgh, the Advanced Autonomy through Human-AI Collaboration brings together researchers from the School of Informatics of the University of Edinburgh, the University of the West of England and the University of Oxford to lay the foundations for the next generation of AI systems capable of providing new levels of autonomy in hardware and software agents,. The collaboration aims to improve understanding of the ethical and societal implications of increased autonomy, and build a roadmap and UK community to support a future major UK initiative in this area.
To improve access to affordable technologies that can provide biomarker solutions for dementia diagnosis, the University of Strathclyde has attracted funding form the Latin American Brain Health Institute (BrainLat) to launch the first ever EEG Global Platform for Dementia,. BrainLat awarded a seed-grant to the Applied Cognition Lab at the University of Strathclyde to put together the EuroLAD-EEG Consortium which links six academic institutions form Europe and six from Latin American Countries.
The SDRC is aware that the above examples supporting the relevance of expanding the theme’s scope and aims are just a small sample of the constellation of efforts and studies going on in Scotland. We have therefore embarked on targets that are more ambitious. We present these below.
The Scottish Dementia Informatics Partnership (SDIP) aims to link health and social care data to improve understanding of the healthcare of people living with dementia and at a high risk of developing this condition. Another component of the SDIP is the Scottish Brain Health Register (SBHR). This is a research interest register connecting people with dementia and brain health research and is situated as part of a memory clinic service. All patients under the service’s care receive the opportunity to take part in research and to be kept informed on what research is being done.
The Informatics and Technologies Theme of the SDRC is organising a workshop, that aims to deliver the Technologies for Brain Health and Dementia Prevention Special Interest Group (SIG). The SIG will attract the community actively involved in research relevant to Healthcare Technologies to explore shared interests and opportunities to join efforts. In 2022-2023, the Theme expects to increase partnerships with centres and institutions across Scotland.
Get in contact if you want to contribute to the organization of this workshop and SIG, visit https://www.sdrc.scot/technologies-innovation-workshop
If you want to know about dementia research in Scotland, click here to read the SDRC Annual Report 2021/22 in full.
Find out more about the SDRC research themes here
 THE EMBEDDIA PROJECT. http://embeddia.eu/