AI-powered mental health diagnostic tool could be the first of its kind to predict, treat depression


As the world of artificial intelligence blooms, some players in the health care industry are looking to make a major difference in public health.

HMNC Brain Health — a Munich, Germany-based health tech company — is one of those. It’s attempting to use novel AI-powered technologies to address mental health issues.

The company has developed what’s described as a “precision psychiatry” diagnostic tool that uses artificial intelligence to predict, diagnose and even treat depression.

While the technology is still in development, HMNC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Hans Eriksson told Fox News Digital that the tool could be the first of its kind in generative AI.

“We expect to be probably the first to bring a functioning companion diagnostic together with a new treatment for depression,” he said.

Eriksson, who is also a psychiatrist, said HMNC began by attempting to find the link between stress and depression.

One of HMNC’s objectives, he added, is to eradicate the “trial and error” of mental health treatments.

“We know that the available antidepressants, for instance, are generally safe and well-tolerated,” he said. 

“But they don’t lead to a substantial improvement in all patients.”

“Until now, there has been no really good way to decide what treatment should be chosen for a particular patient,” he said.

HMNC, he emphasized, is attempting to bring the “precision medicine angle to psychiatry” through novel medicines and AI-powered tools.

Dr. Daniel Gehrlach, HMNC’s associate director of biomarkers, added that depression diagnoses are “subjective.”

“We have many people who are diagnosed as having a major depressive disorder, but there might be completely different underlying biologies leading to this depression,” he said.

The new technology can identify niche subsets that may lead to depression, such as stress, he said.

“We were lucky to obtain large datasets, clinical data from patients — and this allowed us to train an algorithm using machine learning tools to classify a patient into either highly likely to respond or not,” Gehrlach said.

“We as humans would not be able to make any sense out of that, but by using AI and machine learning tools, we are able to train this algorithm to predict which patient will respond best.”

Eriksson said HMNC is running three different programs, two of which are currently in phase two of development.

“In one of the programs, we are aiming for treatment-resistant depression; in the other program, we are looking at the broader patient population with depression,” he said.

Since many depression treatments have helped with other disorders such as anxiety, the psychiatrist said it is “very likely” that HMNC will branch out to other mental illnesses in the future.

“Our vision is that there will be a number of medications with companion diagnostics,” he said. “Some of them will be coming from HMNC Brain Health; some may come from other places.” 

He added, “But this will give the psychiatrists of the future a much more versatile toolbox to really be able to select the most appropriate treatment for the patient early on, instead of having this trial-and-error process that is the common practice today.”

While they’re not alone in bringing precision medicine into psychiatry, Eriksson said HMNC stands apart from competitors with its two-pronged approach, including identification capabilities and medication already in development.

It will take several years for HMNC’s solution to come to market. Even so, Eriksson said the company’s model has the potential to improve early response and detection in the mental health industry.

“Psychiatric treatment will probably become much more streamlined,” he said. He also said he hopes there will be “a shorter duration from diagnosis to cure for patients.”

Gehrlach compared the method to what is practiced in oncology today with treating cancers.

“When you take a biopsy, you measure, you see what kind of tumor it is and what it could respond to, and only then initiate treatment,” he said.

The company wants to “help patients to get better treatments and to get well faster.”

“Of course, we shouldn’t forget the fact that psychiatry also encompasses clinicians and health care providers meeting the patients on a psychological level,” Eriksson said. 

“So, there will also be a need for that.” 

“But the biological tools that we are able to provide, we hope will be more specific and help the patients to overcome the symptoms earlier on,” he added.

Gehrlach commented on the “fantastic” and recent development of generative AI, stating that he can envision a future with innovations such as “psychiatrist chatbots.”

“Overall, [it is] very exciting and we hope to be spearheading this in the psychiatric space,” he said.

Eriksson said he considers this the start of a “new golden era of neuropsychopharmacology.”

“I’m quite fortunate to be able to live in this era where a large number of breakthroughs are coming in … and that happens at the same time as this AI opportunity opens itself up,” said Eriksson.

“[HMNC] are the pioneers in precision psychiatry,” he added. 

“We are trying to really transform the way psychiatric drugs are being developed … to help patients to get better treatments and to get well faster.”