McLean Hospital and GrayMatters Health Awarded a BIRD Foundation Grant

Represents the first attempt to deliver a digital therapy for depression based on a biological marker as adjunct to standard of care

August 5, 2021

GrayMatters Health, a digital therapeutics start-up company, announced that the BIRD Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation awarded a grant to McLean Hospital and the company to develop a novel solution for the therapy of major depressive disorder (MDD) with anhedonia symptoms.

Based on GrayMatters’ patented fMRI-to-EEG machine learning platform, Prism, the treatment will enable individuals with MDD who do not have the ability to feel pleasure—also known as anhedonia—to learn how to control and regulate their reward system.

The McLean team will be led by Diego A. Pizzagalli, PhD, director of the Center for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Research, and Kerry J. Ressler, MD, PhD, chief scientific officer, chief of the Division of Depression and Anxiety Disorders, co-director of the SPARED Conte Center, and director of the Neurobiology of Fear Laboratory.

“We are excited about this collaboration with GrayMatters Health and we are grateful to the BIRD Foundation for their support that will allow McLean and GrayMatters Health to advance our work together to develop innovative approaches to effectively treat depression,” said Scott L. Rauch, MD, McLean president and psychiatrist in chief.

Woman looks at screens

McLean and GrayMatters Health are working together to develop a new digital therapy to support patients with depression

Pizzagalli, who also serves as the director of the McLean Imaging Center and the Laboratory for Translational and Affective Neuroscience, noted that reduced activation within the brain reward system, a set of regions critically implicated in motivation and the experience of pleasure, has been repeatedly demonstrated in major depression.

“Unfortunately, the current gold standard for the treatment of depression does not appropriately address this abnormality, which has been linked to ongoing functional impairments,” said Pizzagalli. “Our proposal to use neurofeedback targeting the brain reward system could fill an important unmet need and offer a truly novel way to treat depression.”

Talma Hendler, MD, professor of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at Tel Aviv University, director of the Sagol Brain Institute at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, and the technology’s inventor, also commented, “The project will allow the validation of the technology on a large group of diagnosed MDD patients with anhedonia, a specific disturbance of the positive valence system. Anhedonia is present in 70% of MDD patients and is especially resistant to antidepressant treatments prescribed today.”

She explained, “The underlying scientific assumption is that MDD patients with anhedonia suffer from poor recruitment of the reward system and therefore training them to upregulate it via Prism could enhance their ability to enjoy and approach desired life goals.”

Oded Kraft, co-founder and CEO of GrayMatters concluded, “This project will enable us to expand our indications from PTSD to depression. We are thrilled to do so together with the extraordinary team at McLean Hospital, and are thankful to the BIRD Foundation for their support, which will enable us to advance innovation in mental health therapy.”

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