Bryn Loftness displays an Empatica E4 wristband and BioStamp sensors that collect physiological response data.
(JULY 11, 2023) Bryn Loftness, a doctoral student in UVM’s Complex Systems and Data Science program, is working with her faculty mentors Ellen McGinnis, assistant professor of psychiatry, and Ryan McGinnis, Karl and Mary Fessenden Professor of Biomedical Engineering, to identify biomarkers associated with mental health issues in young children, Newswire reports.
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Young children typically don’t have the vocabulary or ability to communicate emotional problems to caregivers who might be able to help. But Loftness’s project, “Discovering Digital Phenotypes of Childhood Internalizing Disorders for Point-of-Care Diagnostics,” aims to develop an engineered health tool that could potentially flag cases early on. The hope, says Ellen McGinnis, is that caregivers will be able to see that a child is affected by something emotionally and it’s showing up physically.
The McGinnises have been researching biomarkers for mental health issues in kids since they were doctoral students at the University of Michigan, where they soon realized there were no existing tools to identify anxiety disorders in young kids. “We need tools to get at what’s going on with these kids,” Ellen McGinnis says.
Loftness is the couple’s first joint graduate student, and her research will help move the project out of the lab and into doctors’ offices. “It’s different from a lot of academic research because we are thinking of the how to translate the technology from the beginning,” McGinnis explains. “Bryn has been amazing and is forging that path with this tool.”
“My whole goal coming into this Ph.D. was not to come out an academic professor or go into industry and, you know, ‘work for the man,’” Loftness says. “It was to build a toolkit or create some sort of software that we could commercialize and bring to the community … that is actually what we are doing now.”