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This week, experts in mental health research and medical technology gathered to hear about the NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i) Challenge Award launching in January to address unmet clinical need in mental health.

NIHR press release:

Research teams comprised of clinicians, academics and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are being challenged to develop innovative technological solutions that can influence the patient care pathway and improve patient outcomes for people with mental health conditions.

One call per year will be commissioned in 2017 and 2018, operating on a ‘winner takes all’ basis with no upper limit on funds requested. The solution must comprise the clinical development of laboratory-validated technologies or interventions, requiring minimal preclinical development. Applications must be based on a working prototype or proven concept with a strong evidence base.

Minor or incremental changes to technologies in current clinical use are outside the remit of i4i Challenge awards. The expected output is a disruptive technology with the potential to offer improved outcomes for NHS patients.

At the event hosted by the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), Martin Hunt, i4i Programme Director explained: “There’s no limit to what can be proposed as a solution to our challenge. We’re expecting to see applications that could address how technology can play a role in NHS services, provide accurate diagnosis, ensure early intervention or effectively monitor disease. We don’t know exactly what we will get but as long as it fits within the remit then that’s really promising.” 

Professor Chris Hollis, Director of the NIHR MindTech Health Technology Cooperative (HTC) addressed the importance of finding a solution for people with mental health conditions needing better diagnosis and treatment and commented: “Mental health practice has remained largely unchanged, with innovative treatments lacking in the field of mental health. Technology offers the prospect of more accessible and personalised care and addresses the need for a more joined-up approach to diagnosis, monitoring and analysis of treatment outcomes.”

Dr Julian Edbrooke-Childs, Head of Digital Development & Evaluation, Senior Research Fellow at Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and previous Challenge Award winner said: “The Award is an opportunity to apply for funding in an area typically under resourced and one in which patient involvement would prove to be a strong motivator for the successful research team.”

Finally Lance corporal Rijckmans gave his perspective as a patient. In the context of using technology to facilitate mental health care he felt that the availability of tele-psychiatry for consultations would have benefited him in periods when he was at home in Norwich, in order to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder from his clinical team based in Plymouth. In line with research in this area, he also recognised the stigma that exists around mental health conditions and said:

 “It’s very hard to put your hand up and say ‘I need help’. I know people in the armed forces who haven’t been able to ask for the help they need and have problems as a result.”
Surgeon Captain Coetzee, Consultant Advisor in Psychiatry for the Royal Navy, confirmed that stigma is an issue in the military when it comes to help-seeking, as it is in the civilian arena.

Minister for Public Health and Innovation Nicola Blackwood said:

“The launch of this NIHR i4i Challenge Award recognises a gap in treatment options for people with mental health conditions and we hope to see the winning solution drawing on innovative technology to help bridge this gap.

“It’s encouraging to hear there were so many experts at the event on Monday with the potential to drive research initiatives that could make a real difference to patients and service users in the future.”

The NIHR is committed to funding mental health research and has spent over £340 million since 2011 in this field.

In addition, the £816 million investment in NIHR Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs) from April will see further funding to support mental health research. The Maudsley BRC is part of this investment allowing them to continue to apply a translational approach to ground-breaking mental health research.

NIHR Maudsley BRC Director, Professor Matthew Hotopf who chaired the event said:

“We were delighted to host the launch of the NIHR i4i Mental Health Challenge Awards competition. Mental health disorders have a huge economic and social cost, and the right disruptive technology has the potential to transform treatment and care in this field. It’s timely that NIHR are committing new funding to this area, and it was great to learn more about the competition at the event.”

To find out more about the 2017 NIHR i4i Challenge Award in mental health, including eligibility criteria and dates, visit the NIHR website.