The researchers also capture a patient’s movements using a video camera inserted in the ceiling of the room. The footage taken with the camera is turned into images that are converted into XY coordinates using an algorithm developed by coinvestigator Martin Paulus, also a professor of psychiatry at UCSD. With the XY data, Perry says that he and his colleagues can predict exploratory patterns and gauge the extent to which the patient’s behavior is chaotic and unpredictable. The data from the accelerometer was coordinated with the video data to create a pattern of behavior for each patient in the study.
The study is in its fourth year, and the researchers are evaluating both medicated and nonmedicated patients, then comparing them to healthy individuals. And while the results are preliminary, Tamminga thinks that Perry’s work could have an impact on psychiatry. “Currently, psychiatrists do not have any device that is specific enough to tell them about an illness. We have some human brain imaging through MRI and EEG studies, but none of these have been close to a diagnostic test.”
Perry says that if the appropriate behavioral signatures can be distinguished, the system could be used by drug companies to test the effectiveness of some medications. But the UCSD system is challenging because it makes the assumption that body movements are in perfect synchrony with the brain. This is sometimes true, but not always, says Tamminga.
To make this device applicable for psychiatry, the researchers need to conduct further studies that show how useful it is actually going to be in distinguishing between undiagnosed groups, says John Gilmore, professor of psychiatry and vice chair of research in the department of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina.
Perry’s ultimate goal: “We want someone to come into a room and spend 15 minutes, and based on the analysis, we can say the probability of this person having an attentional disorder or schizophrenia is quite high.”
Over the next couple of years, the researchers hope to improve the system and conduct a large study involving different medications and disorders.