Cincinnati Children's doctors hopeful supercomputer can help decrease mental illness

Supercomputer Cincinnati Children's Hospital
Posted at 10:19 PM, Mar 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-04 22:19:30-05

CINCINNATI — Doctors at Cincinnati Children's are hoping a supercomputer is the key to curing certain mental illnesses.

"It's our goal to cure depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation through early intervention," said Dr. John Pestian, professor of pediatric, psychiatry, and biomedical informatics.

For Pestian, medicine and technology go hand in hand. His idea for this recent research started when he and his colleagues were developing software that would predict and identify early signs of veteran suicides.

This new project would essentially create the mental health version of a growth chart parents receive when they visit their child's pediatrician. The data would come from the world's second-fastest supercomputer.

"We teach the computer what it looks like, and that's called the training stage," Pestian said. "We get all the data we want and clean it, and then we give it to the computer and say, 'This is what depression looks like.'"

The massive supercomputer named Summit is in Tennessee at Oak Ridge National Lab. Experts are cramming research into it to help them better predict a child's mental health trajectory.

"Mental health is really complex," Pestian said. "It's not only the biology, but it's the thoughts. And then there's the environment."

The computer takes in all that data and learns about mental illness in a matter of hours, just a fraction of the time a normal computer would take.

"If you try to do it on your desktop, it would take about 10 years," Pestian said. "With the supercomputers, we can compute what we need in a couple of hours."

The CDC reports one in six children are diagnosed with mental, behavioral or developmental disorders, but if all goes well with this research, Pestian says it could make the lives of children better for years to come.

"If we can identify it early and give treatment, we can decrease adult mental illnesses up to 50%," Pestian said.

This project was funded through a $10 million grant from Cincinnati Children's Research Foundation.

Pestian said his team is sending off research articles to be published in the next few weeks. He's hoping to start a pilot program at Cincinnati Children's by the end of this year or the middle of next year.

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