University of Nottingham experts use mobile tech to help diagnose mental health conditions

One in four people suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives at a £94 billion a year cost to the economy.

But a quicker route to diagnosing mental health problems could soon be available on your mobile phone.

Experts at the University of Nottingham have developed technology which uses cameras to spot the changes in physical behaviour caused by conditions ranging from stress through to depression.

Dr Michel Valstar, Dr Anthony Brown and Dr Timur Almaev have developed technology which picks out changes in people’s facial expressions which are caused by mental health conditions.

Now, they have turned that technology into a business, BlueSkeye AI, which is being supported by the University through Nottingham Technology Ventures, which manages the University’s portfolio of spin-out businesses.

BlueSkeye AI blends advanced research into mental health with specialist expertise in computer vision, machine learning and AI. Its team has worked with psychiatrists, specialist nurses and primary care trusts to analyse the common signs of mental health problems and devise monitoring systems which are capable of picking them up.

Michel said: “The idea stems from work that we have been involved with to try to identify and recognise depressive illnesses. One of the physical changes which takes place if people have a mental health issue is motor control, and that can manifest itself in changes in facial expression and tone of voice.

“What we have developed is technology which senses changes from which we can identify all the cues of medical conditions which change your behaviour – a field we call behaviomedics.”

Working with Nottingham Technology Ventures (NTV), BlueSkeye has already identified a number of potential uses for its technology, which is likely to be licensed to partners able to integrate it with their digital healthcare platforms.

It could then be used by sectors like pharmaceuticals to monitor the impact of treatments, and by large employers to help people manage their mental wellbeing.

Michel added: “BlueSkeye AI will put the ability to monitor mental health into the hands of individuals and medical professionals by building an affordable and accessible tool on mobile.”

Dr Andy Naylor, the CEO of NTV, said: “BlueSkeye AI is one of the latest additions to the University’s spin-out portfolio and we believe it has developed an original solution for what is likely to be a very significant market opportunity.

“We are helping the team to identify routes to market and also secure further financial backing. This is a very promising opportunity that has appeal across a number of sectors.”

“Many people will be familiar with the work of Sir Peter Mansfield and his team in developing the technology behind the MRI scanner, and health research remains an important priority for the University.

“Our decision to support BlueSkeye reflects not only a belief that this represents an important opportunity but also the fact that it could help to identify, treat and manage conditions which affect very many people.”

Background Notes

Photo Credit: Bianca Castillo, Unsplash.

For more information contact Stuart Baird [email protected] 07799 678009

Website: https://blueskeye.com/

1] Affects 25% of population: MIND – https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/#.XPE8xYhKhPY

2] £94bn cost to UK economy: OECD (as reported by The Guardian) – https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/nov/22/mental-illness-costs-uk-94bn-a-year-oecd-report-says-employment-economy-productivity

Nottingham Technology Ventures manages the University of Nottingham’s spin-out portfolio and the Nottingham invention Fund It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University and is based in the Ingenuity Centre at the University of Nottingham Innovation Park. www.nottinghamtechventures.com  

The University has helped its spin-out companies to secure millions of pounds in funding to develop technologies in fields which range from manufacturing to mental health. It has invested nearly £900,000 during the past year in nine businesses which began life as university research projects.

The investments have helped the University’s spin-out portfolio secure further funding worth £14 million – money which will help them to either commercialise their ideas and bring them to market as viable products or build on an existing market presence.

The financial backing also forms a key part of the University’s wider long-term strategy of supporting the development of technologies that have the capacity to improve the world around us.

They include support for businesses active in fields such as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose mental health conditions, and the manufacture of nanoparticles – which change the way surfaces behave.

The investments have been led by Nottingham Technology Ventures, which manages the University’s portfolio of 20 spin-out companies, working in partnership with specialist investment funds such as Mercia Technologies and Foresight Group.

University of Nottingham investments spur growth in spin-out companies

THE UNIVERSITY of Nottingham has helped its spin-out companies to secure millions of pounds in funding to develop technologies in fields which range from manufacturing to mental health.

It has invested nearly £900,000 during the past year in nine businesses which began life as university research projects.

The investments have helped the University’s spin-out portfolio secure further funding packages totalling around £14 million – money which will help them to either commercialise their ideas and bring them to market as viable products, or build on an existing market presence.

The financial backing also forms a key part of the University’s wider long-term strategy of supporting the development of technologies that have the capacity to improve the world around us.

They include support for businesses active in fields such as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose mental health conditions, and the manufacture of nanoparticles – which change the way surfaces behave.

The investments have been led by Nottingham Technology Ventures, which manages the University’s portfolio of 20 spin-out companies, working in partnership with specialist investment funds such as Mercia Technologies and Foresight Group. They include:

  • Promethean Particles, which has received £250,000 from the University as part of a £1.24m funding round led by Foresight Group, which manages the government-backed Midlands Engine Investment Fund. Promethean has set up the world’s largest nanoparticle manufacturing plant in Nottingham, able to produce materials at a microscopic scale which can then be used to improve the performance of products which range from printed electronic circuits to medical implants. Its success stems from specialist expertise in nanoparticle manufacturing, where it has developed a patented reactor which enables continuous production of particles.
  • Blueskeye AI, which is developing technology that uses cameras with embedded AI software to spot the changes in physical behaviour caused by conditions ranging from stress to depression. It receives £100,000 from the University as it continues work on a process which could speed up the diagnosis, treatment and management of a range of mental health conditions affecting a quarter of the UK population.
  • TextureJet, which receives £60,00 from the University alongside £250,000 from Innovate UK, to develop a new manufacturing technology which leads to more efficient and environmentally-friendly surface treatments.

Early-stage technology companies can find it difficult to secure funding, but the University uses its long-established expertise in research commercialisation to identify strong teams whose inventions have clear market potential based on broad societal benefit.

Dr Andy Naylor, CEO of NTV, says that the University’s support for spin-out businesses also helps give other funders the confidence to come on board.

He explained: “Technology companies can find it extremely difficult to access the funding needed to develop their products when they are at an early stage in their life. Their technology can be seen as unproven and it may take time for them to develop it to the point where it’s commercially viable.

“The University’s investment not only comes with the support of an experienced team to help companies achieve their goals, it can also reassure other potential investors that the ideas are have serious commercial potential.

“Supporting technologies that can have an impact at scale is central to the University’s core mission and doing so in partnership with other funding organisations demonstrates real strength in the numbers of opportunities for investment in innovation across the Midlands.”

NTV has channelled the University’s financial support through two specific funds – the Pathfinder Fund, which helps spin-outs with their initial set-up costs, and the Invention Fund, which provides more substantial backing as these spin-outs seek to develop and grow.

Between them, the two funds invested a total of £881,000 during the year. Besides these current investments, the University has a pipeline of new spin-out businesses which it is also likely to support.

Dr Naylor added: “The last year has been extremely successful, with a series of new investments in spin-outs which are developing some incredibly exciting new technologies.

“This builds on the University of Nottingham’s long track record of research commercialisation and it’s one of the key reasons why we have such a strong pipeline of new opportunities for investment.”

University of Nottingham spin-outs open up new horizons in energy and health

Business investment can often seem like a story of nothing but the financial proposition: Where’s the opportunity, when will we see a return?

At Nottingham Technology Ventures (NTV), we’re certainly focused on supporting ideas which have clear visibility of strong market opportunities.

But our perspective on those opportunities also takes into account a much broader context. What are the emerging technologies and markets, what new opportunities might emerge and – perhaps most importantly of all for us – what benefits could new technologies and the companies developing them bring to the world around us?

This horizon scanning is a key part of our responsibilities in managing the University of Nottingham’s portfolio of spin-out businesses. The University has a long and distinguished track record of commercialising research and doing so in ways which help bring to market new technologies and products that deliver genuine societal benefit.

So where is the future taking us, and how is that manifesting itself in the investments that the University makes? The physical sciences and life sciences are always a useful guide and some of the broad themes around energy, climate, sustainability and health will be familiar.

But the research related to these challenges is perhaps less well publicised, so it may be helpful to take a look at some of the commercial opportunities that research is opening up – and how NTV, as the steward of the University’s interest and its wider mission in relation to spin-outs, is helping those opportunities come into sharper focus.

In the field of energy, we currently have two companies in the formation phase.

Cheesecake Energy addresses the challenge of energy storage, one of the keys to enabling the wider adoption of renewable sources like wind and solar, where we’re ultimately not in control of the natural ‘on-off’ switch. The company is developing a highly cost-effective solution which uses compressed air and rock-gravel beds to store the energy, then allows it to be discharged into the electricity system over a period of hours.

Huge opportunity

This kind of medium-term energy storage presents a huge opportunity. The annual global market size for these solutions has been estimated at $46bn by 2025. Medium-term storage could be a key enabler of more widespread electric vehicle charging and for managing peak flows from renewable sources into the grid. Cheesecake already has some notable industrial partners, a strong endorsement of the company’s approach and its technology.

Whilst Cheesecake addresses a fundamental issue with renewable energy, another of our new potential spin-outs delves into a specific technical aspect of electrical generation systems – power electronics. TTPi (short for The Thinking Pod Innovations) is developing technology to enable widespread use of new kinds of semiconductor for AC/DC conversion and conditioning of electrical power.

Based on the use of gallium nitride rather than traditional silicon, TTPI’s technology will enable industry to more easily use these wide-band semiconductors to deliver significant efficiency gains and reduced costs.

The potential applications here are vast – these power converters are used in everything from wind turbines and solar cells to electric vehicles, and all relate to more efficient use of energy.

Our Vice-Chancellor, Shearer West, made clear only a few days ago just how important the drive for sustainability and addressing climate change is at the University of Nottingham. It’s a priority in our global research programme and visible in everything from the Carbon Neutral Laboratory on the University of Nottingham Innovation Park to the investments we’re talking about here.

Health research

Alongside sustainability, another important focus in our drive to find viable commercial solutions to societal challenges is health. This reflects the research activity at the University’s teaching hospital – the Queen’s Medical Centre – and our strong Faculty of Engineering.

We have already seen some significant successes – Exonate, with its pioneering work on eye drops to treat age-related macular degeneration, and Monica Healthcare, which developed a lifesaving foetal heart monitor. They are part of a tradition of health-related research at the University whose aim is to impact positively on the quality of people’s lives.

Recently, we have entered a new field with BlueSkeye AI, one of our most recent spin-out companies. It is using mobile technologies and artificial intelligence to develop solutions which identify the physical manifestation of mental health conditions – changes in facial expression, for example – to aid the diagnosis of everything from stress and anxiety to depression.

We believe BlueSkeye AI’s work could deliver profound societal benefits.

These are some of the research-to-commercialisation journeys we are supporting at the moment. They all begin in the same place: collaborating with academics to examine the real-world potential of their research, and supporting the development of business plans and teams which help bring these opportunities to market.

There is no silver bullet. All of these journeys stem from the University’s investment in an environment which enables fundamental research but connects it to commercialisation expertise. We may look a long way ahead but we never lose sight of that starting point.

Device developed by Nottingham spin-out could increase life chances of newborns requiring medical intervention

A lifesaving device developed by a University of Nottingham spin-out company has undergone clinical trials in the city.

The device developed by company SurePulse Medical will increase the life chances of new-born babies who require medical intervention in the precious first few minutes of their lives

About one in 10 babies need resuscitation or stabilisation at delivery for a variety of reasons including premature birth, trauma or their airway is blocked. That means around 400,000 babies born in Europe every year are in need of some form of resuscitation. The SurePulse VS, uses an optical sensor integrated into a cap which then display the babies heart rate on a screen to help clinicians in the ‘golden minutes’ they have to stabilise the baby – in the most critical cases it will mean babies lives will be saved from death or life-long disability.

SurePulse CEO Dr James Carpenter is an electronic engineer and formed the company with academic colleagues after studying for his PhD in medical electronics at The University of Nottingham.

Dr Carpenter said: “The stethoscope remains the standard of care, but as you can imagine listening to a tiny heart beat and doing a mental calculation to calculate the heart rate can lead to delays and errors. How you manage the baby in those first few minutes makes a big difference to their mortality and morbidity outcomes in the short and long term.”

Medics are closely monitoring the heart rate to ensure the baby is stable – the SurePulse VS will accurately guide the process and give those babies the best possible chance.

He added: “What we are trying to do is optimise treatment in the ‘golden minutes’ after birth; that time when babies are coming off the umbilical cord, their mother’s blood supply and trying to start independent life. Choosing the right intervention really makes a huge difference.

“If you get a heart rate outside of the right ranges, it can have a significant impact on things like IQ, as depleted oxygenation of the brain potentially leads to cerebral palsy and other types of brain damage.

“Giving confidence to doctors that they have the right information at the right time also gives parents confidence that their baby is being managed in the best way possible which helps to reduce stress in the delivery room”

Nottingham Technology Ventures (NTV), the organisation which manages the University of Nottingham’s interest in a portfolio of 18 spin-out companies.

Businesses which began life as research projects earned a return of more than £11 million for the University of Nottingham last year.

This is being reinvested in supporting the University’s core mission of creating a learning environment which inspires students and carrying out research which leads to transformative discovery.

These companies have developed a range of advanced products and services for industries which range from agriculture and the environment to healthcare and manufacturing.

NTV’s work in managing the portfolio means it plays an important role in helping the University nurture projects that can be commercialised to benefit the local and regional economy through jobs and financial gain, and wider society by developing products and services which address major challenges.