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Can Innovative Technology Help Medical Professionals Monitor Patient Depression Symptoms?

Ava Licht ’23 worked as a summer research intern with primary investigators affiliated with MGH and MIT evaluating how data from wristbands and cell phone sensors could better inform depressed patient care.
August 17th, 2022 by 

Ava Licht ’23 photographed on campus at the College of the Holy Cross on Aug. 2, 2022 in Worcester, Massachusetts. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Holy Cross)

Ava Licht ’23, a College of the Holy Cross psychology major with a neuroscience minor in the Health Professions Advising program, was looking for a summer internship that would provide experience for students like her with aspirations to continue their education in medical school for psychiatry. This summer, Licht joined the psychiatry department at Massachusetts General Hospital as a clinical research intern in the Depression Clinical and Research Program (DCRP), investigating ways of using innovative technology to assist medical professionals in monitoring changes in patients’ depression symptoms.

What are you working on? 

I work on a study that is conducted in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and I am part of a team led by primary investigator Paola Pedrelli, MGH director of Dual Diagnoses Studies. The study investigates how to leverage E4 wristband sensors, which are the research equivalent of Fitbits, and smartphone sensors to characterize depression. I am responsible for communicating with patients, identifying novel recruitment strategies for the study and updating data records.

What have you learned from the experience?

I have learned a lot at the DCRP already. By watching and working with the research coordinators, I have learned how important it is to have good teamwork. Specifically, I have learned the importance of great communication and supporting your team members. There are many moving parts to research and it would be impossible to do it alone. I am very grateful for the experience of working with another great intern and team. I have also learned the importance of working on projects in which you are interested and invested. I know that is not always possible for everyone, but being excited about the impact of your work makes such a difference in your experience.

How are you making a difference?

The study I work on focuses on developing methods to assess depression by using sensors that resemble everyday technology. The study aims to develop methods that will enable clinicians and primary care doctors to monitor changes in depression symptoms without patients’ involvement. These strategies will allow care providers to provide care in a more timely manner if patients do not respond to first-line treatment or relapse. Therefore, the study’s findings could contribute in a significant way to advancing care for patients with depression. I feel grateful to be a part of a research project that could have a positive impact on people. On the everyday side, I interact with patients as part of the initial part of the recruitment process. I hope that being part of the study is encouraging for participants and that the interactions they have with our team are all positive.

What is the Holy Cross factor?

This position really connects to my interests and the type of work I want to be involved in, which is psychology and health care. I was able to learn the skills that were necessary to be a positive contributor to my role in Dr. Pedrelli’s research study through my Holy Cross lab experience, classroom experience and research experience. At Holy Cross, I have had the opportunity to participate in research with Alo C. Basu, associate professor of psychology, and Reihonna Frost-Calhoun, a visiting lecturer of psychology. Both experiences have helped to develop my knowledge of how research is conducted and the development of necessary skills. I am also very grateful for my professors who provided great classroom experiences. The knowledge I gained from class with Noah Berman, assistant professor of psychology, prepared me significantly to work on a study centered around depression and work in a space like the DCRP. I’m happy with the experience I’ve been able to gain exposure to, in terms of research outside of Holy Cross, through this internship. It has been cool to see the different ways research can be conducted between institutions and I have enjoyed working with the people at the DCRP.

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