A new approach to mental health is on the horizon. And it will be more transformative than any of us can possibly imagine. It is empowered by an understanding of our own brain. The greatest innovations and opportunities to scale are ahead of us. We want to be part of this transformation in our lifetime. This is why we founded the Center for Precision Mental Health and Wellness. We need great scientists, entrepreneurs, and trailblazers to build this new world for mental health.
Mental disorders touch us all. Their impact is felt across the lifespan, but mental disorders are the most common health problem for young people. All too often they are terminal. Currently, mental disorders are diagnosed by clinical observations. There are no tests to aid diagnosis, subtyping, or treatment selection. Individuals often cycle through a series of therapies, hoping that one of them will work. The longer it takes to find the right treatment, the less likely it is that any subsequent one will work. Getting the ‘right treatment’ at the first intervention is paramount. Patients really want to know what treatment will work best for them and not what works on average. They also want a new language to break through the stigma and silence surrounding mental disorder.
Our Center combines high tech, data, and neuroscience to detect different types of mental disorders more precisely and associate them with specific treatment outcomes. This approach is doing for mental health what has occurred in other medical domains such as cancer treatment: advancing clinical practice by personalizing and matching treatments more effectively to each version of the underlying disease. Instead of waiting till the equivalent of “stage 4” of a mental illness, when a person loses hope and feels that suicide is the only choice, we might be able to detect the problem early, at something like “stage 1” or even before onset of a mental disorder, intervening preemptively. Clinicians can then strategically select the most effective treatment for each person, get it to them sooner, and keep them well longer.
The “Framingham study” was a moonshot that transformed how we understand and care for our heart. No longer do half of American adults die from heart disease. The Framingham study taught us that to accelerate findings into practice, we need to embed our research within local communities, study real world cohorts, and partner with visionaries. It gave us an understanding of the biology of our heart, and we use it to develop sensors that track our heart health and alert us to when we need a more detailed assessment. Now is the time to make the same transformation for mental health.
To accelerate change, our Center is unified around three research thematic areas:
Precision Preventions and Diagnostics. Develop precise tests for detecting mental illness and risk factors. Integrate circuit, behavioral, and physiological measures, across the lifespan. Improve quality of life and reduce suicidality.
Precision Treatment Matching. Optimize neuroscience-based measures to get the right treatment to each person sooner. Limit trial-and-error. Include medication, neuromodulation, behavioral and digital treatments, across the lifespan. Keep people well longer and reduce suicidality.
Precision Strategies for Novel and Exploratory Therapeutics. Advance new treatments, including selective ‘repurposed’ compounds, entactogens, ketamine, psychedelics, and digital therapies. Use neuroscience-based measures to understand benefits and risks, who they are effective for and why.
Our Center is the symbiosis for accelerating progress in each area and for igniting new discovery. Stanford's preeminence in precision mental health depends on active collaborations between disciplines and dynamic engagements with scientific, clinical, and industry trailblazers. Our Center has a vital partnership between Stanford and the Precision Medicine Core of the Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center of Excellence (MIRECC) at the Palo Alto VA. We purposefully translate insights from human clinical studies back to basic science models. Our research members are experts in each of the discipline areas necessary for transforming mental health, including clinical neuroscience, basic neuroscience, psychiatry, psychology, engineering, brain imaging, biomarkers, innovative trial design, medicines, therapies, psychedelics, biomedical data sciences, computation, sensors, and public health.
Join us in creating a transformative approach to mental health.
Leanne Williams, Ph.D.
Director of the Stanford Center for the Precision Mental Health and Wellness