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Dionysus Digital Health Taps AI to Diagnose Depression

MEDTECH: Co. Enters Final Phase of NIH RADx Tech Challenge

Dionysus Digital Health, Inc. is modernizing the methods used to test for psychiatric illness. The San Diego-based company is utilizing a combination of AI-powered analysis of a person’s writing – social medial posts, journals, questionnaires – to assess risk of illness and epigenetic testing to confirm it. The company plans to launch its first product – Enlighten Health – later this year.

Andrea Cubitt
Co-founder & CEO
Dionysus Digital Health, Inc.

“It can actually predict before an illness has occurred or if someone has an increased risk, in this case, of postpartum depression,” said Dionysus co-founder and CEO Andrea Cubitt.

Early this month, Dionysus’ postpartum depression (PPD) test was given some validation when it was selected to move to the next phase of the National Institutes of Health’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Technology (RADx Tech) for Maternal Health Challenge.

The RADx challenge is an $8 million cash prize program to encourage development of technologies to improve maternal health outcomes, especially for women living in areas with little access to maternity care.

“The NIH challenge will bring us one step closer to bringing Enlighten Health to the market giving consumers a simple cost-effective solution to help monitor stress and hormonal data to prevent depression,” Cubitt said.

Dionysus is currently in the final phase, a technology assessment, after completing a “deep dive assessment” of its PPD technology platform.

When Dinonysus’ clinical trials, which will be run out of Emory University, are complete, the technology will undergo a final review to determine its feasibility. Winners of the RADx challenge are expected to be announced in March 2024.

The science and research behind  Dionysus’ Enlighten Health technology was originally developed over a decade ago at John Hopkins University, by the  Dionysus  founding scientists Dr. Jennifer Payne, who now works at UVA Health, and Zachary Kaminsky, who is now at the University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research at The Royal.

Dionysus’ technology employs a unique AI approach that can discover the patterns of stress which suggest hormonal sensitivity. Combined with a test that measures a person’s unique epigenetic signature,  Dionysus  can confirm hormonal sensitivity and predict antidepressant responder status.

The AI backend for the Enlighten Health’ platform was originally developed as a suicide prevention tool that would look for patterns in social media posts that indicate the kinds of mental stressors that lead to suicide.

Although the founders of the technology started with suicide prevention, they soon realized that AI large language models combined with genetic and epigenetic testing could be a solution for detecting more common forms of depression and other mental conditions.

Vivienne Ming
Co-founder & Chief Science Officer
Dionysus Digital Health, Inc.

“If we had everything all at once and the AI could process that data, what would we understand about ourselves? Along the way, what we discovered was it turns out it’s not just postpartum depression, but perimenopausal depression, seasonal affective disorder, possibly even things like cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s,” said Dionysus co-founder and Chief Science Officer Vivienne Ming.

In line with the RADx challenge, Dionysus’ predictive AI technology is designed to lower cost and increase access to maternal care.

“We change the health economics,” Ming said, explaining that the costs and prevalence of postpartum depression is understood by the medical community, but treating all mothers proactively currently doesn’t make economic sense. “By being able to – for free – prescreen all these mothers and then the ones at risk take it a step further and identify this epigenetically, now we completely change the economics of this. It makes it worthwhile for insurance companies and health systems to treat every mom seriously.”

The Dionysus Enlighten Health app tracks a mother’s stress during pregnancy, looking for signs of PPD. Image courtesy Dionysus Digital Health, Inc.

Cubitt said the idea behind Enlighten Health is to make it a standard of care for expecting mothers in their third trimester. “PPD is the most common complication of pregnancy yet less than 50% of women get screened and part of that is they’re confused,” she said. “They don’t understand the symptoms they’re having. PPD is a challenge because of lack of support.”

With a warning of possible PPD and a test to confirm it, Enlighten Health will allow women to understand that biological changes are affecting their perception of stress.

Once the Enlighten app alerts of signs of PPD, it can then recommend taking the test, or offer other options like meditation or supplements. “The idea is to enhance communication and get that risk to the doctor’s attention so the doctor can act,” Cubitt said.

Dionysus Digital Health, Inc.

Founded: 2020
CEO: Andrea Cubitt
Headquarters: San Diego
Business: Medtech company leveraging AI natural language processing and biological testing to diagnose depression and other mental disorders.
Employees: 10
Website: www.dionysushealth.com
Notable: Dionysus’ language processing AI can recognize signs of depression and could have predicted the suicide of Anthony Bourdain in 2016.

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