Irish researcher in New York wins US$100k for MoodRhythm app

31 Jul 2013

Dr Mark Matthews, an Irish researcher working at Cornell University in New York, has just won the prestigious US$100,000 US Heritage Open mHealth Challenge for the mental wellness app, ‘MoodRhythm’ which helps people with mood disorders learn about their daily rhythms and stay in balance.

MoodRhythm – for iPhone and Android – uses smartphone sensors to monitor sleep and social patterns and combines this information with what the user reports about their daily activities, food routines, and mood, in order to learn what situations have positive or negative outcomes. 

The app provides the user with helpful advice to maintain a regular daily rhythm, while also gathering vital information for the patient’s doctor.

The team involved in the award-winning technology include fellow Cornell colleague Prof Tanzeem Choudhury and Prof Ellen Frank of the University of Pittsburgh, who is an international authority on the treatment of biopolar disorder.

Keeping the beat with your biological rhythm

There is growing evidence to show that biological clocks play a fundamental role in our mental and physical wellness. International researchers are now realising the potential impact of interventions that focus on keeping these biological clocks in balance.

“About 200,000 Irish people suffer from bipolar disorders,” says Dr Matthews. “There are real, effective ways to help them maintain balance and get better, and MoodRhythmn is one of them.  Winning this award means that we can now move quickly to make this app available to everyone as soon as possible.

“Biological rhythms are not just relevant to serious mental illness”, Matthews continued. “But they are also central to everything we all do – they affect when we sleep, eat, wake, and even when we learn most effectively and can be the most productive”. 

The Open mHealth Award was judged by an international panel of experts, including Anne Wojcicki – wife of Google’s Sergey Brin – who co-founded 23andMe.  

Dr Matthews, who will return to Trinity College, Dublin in late 2014 to continue his work on health technologies, believes that mental wellness is the next frontier for healthcare.

“There is an exciting opportunity for Ireland to be at the forefront of pioneering mental wellness technologies. 

“At Cornell and Trinity, we’re developing a suite of tools to support a wide range of mental health problems. They’ll be freely available for clinicians, patients and developers to use and extend,” Dr Matthews said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years