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By Rich Bailey

They seem like an extremely odd couple with little in common, but a Gig Tank team formed by UT Chattanooga students is working to bring those two seemingly different realms together, applying the orderly tools of big data analytics to the disordered thinking and behavior of people with mental health issues.

gupta-ashish“Our company is called Cognetics — what this is going to do is a combination of cognition and analytics,” says Dr. Ashish Gupta, a professor of analytics and information technology in the UTC College of Business who is advising the student business. “I think cognitive problems or mental health problems are pretty difficult to deal with, especially all the gun problems you hear about, the problems veterans have with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. We want to apply analytics to health care to solve some of these problems.”

The company is developing an array of sensing devices that will collect data about a person’s vital signs and behavior and correlate that environmental data with clinical information in the person’s electronic medical records. Through the application of big data analytics tools, the company will be able to recognize when the person is at increased risk of having problems and recommend nonclinical interventions that will allow the person to self-regulate his or her condition and return to a balanced state.

“You go to the hospital and you are there only for an hour when you are interacting with a care provider, but you spend 23 hours of your life outside interacting with your environment,” says Dr. Gupta. “Unanticipated events happen and you have social interactions, so a timely intervention is really important. That’s the time when you remain unmonitored and people do not know what is going on in your life.”

“Based on their vital signs like heart rate or pulse, we will tell them to take a break or call someone, to listen to music, go to a movie, take a walk, something different,” adds Rupinder K. Gupta, one of Ashish Gupta’s UTC data analytics students. Other UTC students working on the project, who are part of a UTC-CoLab Fellowship, include Kevin Ringstaff and Sonja Asllani.

The company is currently evaluating sensor devices — which might collect information like heart rate, skin perspiration, electroencephalogram or physical movement patterns — and developing the back-end programming that will process both incoming environmental data and historic clinical data. Potential sensors might be in wearable devices, in a smart phone or sitting in a room.

Those analytics will feed into a recommendation system that will be primed with information from the individual. One person’s mood might be lifted best by a walk in nature, while another might prefer yoga or certain music. The recommendation system will consider all that to prompt the person to take action, perhaps via a text message.

“There’s a lot to be done in this area,” Dr. Gupta says. “We are way behind scientifically as well as commercially in this space. There are a lot of moving pieces. The technology is pretty difficult. It is very new. Not too many people are trained in these types of technology.”