MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (07/11/2023) — Researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School recently received a four-year award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Neural Evidence Aggregation Tool program. The goal of their project— titled Fast, Reliable Electrical Unconscious Detection (FREUD)—is to develop tools to better detect early symptoms of depression, psychosis and suicidality, with the intent that treatment can be started as early in a condition’s trajectory as possible.

“It’s exactly those early moments when getting someone therapy or mental health services could save their life or change the course of their illness,” said Alik Widge, MD, PhD, U of M project lead and assistant professor at the U of M Medical School. “We want to provide tools for early prevention and detection before things get worse.”

Rather than relying on the intuition of therapists to diagnose and treat mental health conditions that can lead to suicide in military veterans and the general population, Dr. Widge and his team will look for physical evidence—known as biomarkers—of symptoms that the patient might not be fully aware of. The team will use different technologies to directly detect electrical signals that occur in the brain and the body when someone encounters something with which they feel uncomfortable.

The project will combine the U of M’s expertise in psychiatry with the expertise of collaborators from the University of Washington in Seattle and Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. They will also work with two industry partners: Deliberate.ai and Intheon.

“One of the best things about this work is the chance to bring together some of the best minds in the country with cutting edge technologies to solve one of the hardest mental health challenges,” said Dr. Widge.

For next steps, the research team aims to build a system that can detect electrical activity in the brain and determine that an image a patient just saw on a screen or was asked about indicates something they’re afraid to discuss. In the long run, researchers hope these biomarkers will identify patients that could be treated to prevent suicide.


About the University of Minnesota Medical School

The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and educating the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. We acknowledge that the U of M Medical School, both the Twin Cities campus and Duluth campus, is located on traditional, ancestral and contemporary lands of the Dakota and the Ojibwe, and scores of other Indigenous people, and we affirm our commitment to tribal communities and their sovereignty as we seek to improve and strengthen our relations with tribal nations. For more information about the U of M Medical School, please visit med.umn.edu.