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August 8, 2017

The unusual Mount Sinai app that could be as effective as drugs in treating depression

Daily Briefing

    Researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital have developed new software technology to treat patients suffering from major depressive disorder without medication—and the results are comparable to drug therapy, Marla Durben Hirsch writes for Hospitals & Health Networks.

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    What does it do?

    The software, called Emotional Faces Memory Task (EFMT), is a software application that asks patients to assess a series of faces, identify emotions presented on those faces, and then identify how many preceding faces in the series displayed the same type of emotions.

    According to Durben Hirsch, the app is designed to help users balance their brain activity and curb abnormal thinking patterns. The app helps users with major depressive disorder—a mental health condition linked to obsessive focus on the negative—by engaging their emotional processing and cognitive control simultaneously. That simultaneous engagement, Durben Hirsch reports, enables individuals to shift their attention from negative thoughts.

    Positive results so far

    According to Durben Hirsch, patients in a clinical trial reported a 42 percent reduction in major depressive disorder symptoms after six weeks, compared with the control group's reported reduction of such symptoms by 15.7 percent. The results, Durben Hirsch reports, are comparable to drug therapy for depression.

    Brian Iacoviello—one of the developers of EFMT, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai, and the director of scientific affairs at Click Therapeutics—said, "We need new and better ways to treat depression." He added, "This research is novel because it's not just about cognition, it's more about cognition for emotionally salient information. People get stuck on negative thoughts."

    Click Therapeutics and Mount Sinai Innovation Partners (MSIP) have now teamed up to further develop the app and introduce it to the market, according to MSIP SVP Erik Lium. According to Click Therapeutics CEO David Klein, digital therapeutics such as EMFT also could be used to treat people for other conditions, such as tobacco use, difficulty sleeping, or heart health conditions.

    Iacoviello said hospitals could employ the software in several ways. "For a lot of folks, psychotherapy is expensive and a big time commitment," Iacoviello said. "It's good to have another option that is not medication." Moreover, according to Iacoviello, since the software is a digital technology, patients could access it in their homes and other non-hospital settings (Durben Hirsch, Hospitals & Health Networks, 8/4).

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