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Smart phone app to help treat psychosis benefits from Government funding

31 Jul 2013

Scientists at The University of Manchester have secured funding to develop and test a smartphone app to deliver cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to people who have experienced a first episode of psychosis.

The £450,000 cash injection from the Medical Research Council (MRC) was one of a number of Biomedical Catalyst projects announced today by the Government.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced a £25.9million funding boost for the third wave of the Biomedical Catalyst scheme – as part of a £93 million package of support for UK health industries.

Dr Sandra Bucci, from The University of Manchester, will use the funding to develop and test an app to deliver CBT to patients in the early stages of psychosis.

The Active Assistance for Psychological Therapy (Actissist) app will allow patients to manage their own care at home through a familiar device (a smartphone). The app will deliver personalised CBT strategies that will allow patients to identify and manage their symptoms as part of their everyday lives, offsetting the potential need for unplanned hospital admissions, which can be highly distressing. This would also lead to significant cost savings for the NHS.

Serious mental health problems such as schizophrenia affect 24 million people worldwide. Schizophrenia is the most serious form of psychosis – a general term that describes a change in people's behaviour, thinking and perception.

The Schizophrenia Commission Report (2012) found that early intervention services in psychosis have the potential to save the NHS £119m over three years.

Dr Bucci, lead investigator of the study from the University of Manchester, said: “Schizophrenia is a serious mental health problem and the onset of psychosis can be a frightening experience for people. The Actissist app has the potential to transform care for people who experience psychosis by empowering them to take ownership over their own care in the community.

“Our ultimate goal is to make helpful treatments more widely accessible and to provide more choice about how people receive treatment, with a view to reducing the number of psychotic episodes people experience, keeping people well and out of hospital. Currently 70 per cent of the costs of serious mental illness go on unplanned admissions to hospital, so reducing relapse will potentially lead to huge savings for the NHS.”

This proof-of-concept study will provide 24 first episode psychosis patients with a CBT smartphone app, and 12 people with an app designed to simply monitor psychosis symptoms. Which treatment people get will be randomly determined so that the effect of treatment can be compared in similar groups of people. If successful, the researchers hope the app could be further developed for psychosis and widened out to other mental health conditions.

This research will build on ClinTouch, another MRC-funded mobile phone app developed at Manchester, which monitors symptoms in severe mental illness. Actissist will extend the ClinTouch concept to provide treatment.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said it was important to invest in new technologies. He said: “By investing in new technologies now we are maintaining the UK’s position as a world leader for innovation. The biomedical industry is a fast moving, high growth sector and the Catalyst has proven to be extremely successful in supporting new business ideas. This investment further drives forward our life sciences strategy.”

Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the MRC, said: “Biomedical Catalyst is fulfilling its goal of providing seamless support from early research in universities through to commercialisation by small and medium-sized companies.”

Notes for editors

For more information or to request an interview with Dr Bucci, contact:
Alison Barbuti
Media Relations Officer, University of Manchester
T: +44 (0)161 275 8383
E: alison.barbuti@manchester.ac.uk