Penn State researchers developing startup to help those recovering from addiction


Wear-It allows the user to track and analyze trends in their recovery process.

Original Source: collegian.psu.edu

Penn State professors and mobile app developers are creating a startup to help individuals struggling with addiction recovery by providing support when they need it most.

Timothy Brick and Zita Oravecz are assistant professors of Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State and the principal investigators of the Wear-IT project.

By using statistical methods, Brick and Oravecz can understand the influences on people’s emotional state and well-being, especially during difficult periods in a person’s life, like drug addiction recovery.

The idea behind Wear-IT is to leverage the data from phones and wearable devices to provide insights that can be used to help during the recovery process.

Brick said smartphones collect a lot of data about each user’s behavior, like location and exercise habits.

By using a wearable health monitor, like an Apple Watch, they give a glimpse into the user’s state of mind by measuring things like heart rate.

“The app looks at all that data and tries to give you advice to improve your well-being and avoid problems like drug cravings, and the situations that trigger those problems,” Brick said.

The app will work with rehabilitation centers and recovery counselors to help provide them and the patient with information and inferences, allowing them to make decisions about how to address each problem.

Brick said individuals recovering from opiate addiction often struggle during their daily commute.

Wear-IT might notice that a person frequently gets hit with a craving at one spot on the way home from work.

The app might then infer that this has something to do with the drug store that’s right nearby and mark that as a trigger for the person, especially if that’s where they used to pick up their opiates.

From this data, Brick said the app could provide a few suggestions like an alternate route that would help them get home with fewer cravings and a better mood.

Wear-IT can also intervene through the user’s wearable device to help prevent a relapse in recovery by recommending breathing exercises, showing motivational pictures, playing short movies or prompting the user to enter their thoughts and feelings at that time.

The app then collects this data and sorts it by time stamps on its server to help determine trends within an individual’s recovery process.

Wear-IT started with Brick’s interest in technological solutions.

“I was looking to get into working with wearables and mobile data collection,” Brick said. “There’s a lot of expertise about that at Penn State.”

Oravecz said she focuses on measuring, modeling and predicting real life experiences as they occur in the moment.

Combining his skillset with Oravecz’s substantive experience in well-being research started a conversation about modeling well-being using this kind of technology.

“We got to talking with another colleague here who linked us to the addiction recovery projects on campus,” Brick said. “And all of a sudden we had a project.”

The two of them received a grant from the College of Health and Human Development to build their start-up and develop Wear-IT.

James Mundie , a mobile app developer at Penn State, is the technical and entrepreneurial lead for the start-up.

“It’s about learning to thrive, rather than merely survive while in recovery,” Mundie said. “The first year is the most crucial time in a patient’s recovery. Using this app can really help rehabilitation centers.”

Although the app is still at the early prototype stage right now, Mundie said they are hoping to start efficacy trials for the app in the next several months, with a final product coming out in one to two years.

By detecting long-term trends and relaying that data back to both the individual and their support group, the app aims to help provide insight on the factors that play into that person’s recovery from addiction.

“Addiction is highly individual,” Mundie said.

“We have these devices that are capable of collecting data and we have algorithms that are capable of detecting personalized trends. So now, our goal is to put all of that together and do something with it.”

Before becoming involved with Wear-IT, Mundie developed an interest in the use of mobile devices to affect people’s lives.

While working at the World Campus at Penn State, Mundie studied the use of mobile devices for personalizing education.

“I wanted to impact peoples’ lives and the problems that they’re having with the use of mobile technology,” Mundie said. “When the Wear-IT project came up, it seemed like a good opportunity to do that.”

Wear-IT wasn’t always focused on helping individuals who struggle with addiction, Mundie said.

The faculty in the College of Health and Human Development were primarily interested in the use of real-time data at first.

The team first planned to use Wear-IT as a way to help people cope with anxiety or stress, but soon focused the start-up around people who struggle with addiction.

“Almost everybody knows someone who struggles with addiction,” Mundie said.

“It’s so pervasive and such a huge problem.”

Mundie and Brick both expressed their excitement to be a part of the start-up.

“The ability to produce something that could actually help people is something really special,” Mundie said.

Brick said he’s excited about Wear-IT’s ability to have a real effect in people’s lives.

“I feel like a lot of the time, the work that I do is pretty theoretical,” Brick said. “Here, we’re doing something that lets us really help people directly with the results of our scientific work and that’s very exciting to me.”

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