Although many people have heard of post-traumatic conditions such as postraumatic stress (PTS), post-concussion syndrome, and depression, the onset and progression of these disorders remain poorly understood. Biomarkers to identify people at high risk or to diagnose those with one or more of these outcomes do not exist. Treatment options are limited. These critical gaps in scientific knowledge prevent health care providers from proactively identifying and effectively treating civilian trauma survivors, service men and women, and combat veterans with these common post-traumatic conditions.

In order to study these conditions earlier and more deeply, Verily is excited to join the University of North Carolina (UNC) and Harvard-led AURORA Study, a groundbreaking five-year observational study of 5,000 individuals experiencing trauma, as a research partner. The AURORA Study, which involves 19 institutions, will be the most comprehensive trauma study performed to date. The study will pair tools to passively capture health data, such as smartphones and Verily’s investigational Study Watch, with UNC’s expertise in trauma research. This collaboration presents a unique opportunity to discover new insights that could translate into fundamental advances in our understanding of post-traumatic conditions.

Typically in research, diseases or conditions are assessed at a single moment in time — yet a clearer picture of health conditions may be better obtained by the evaluation of numerous variables over time. Using continuous physiologic data obtained from the Study Watch, AURORA study investigators will determine whether it is possible to identify individuals at-risk for persistent post-traumatic sequelae, as well as to diagnose and predict symptom progression. In addition, investigators will examine other passive data collection methods using smartphone apps, as well as in-person visits, genomic measurements, neurocognitive tests, patient surveys, and medical record reviews. These will be brought together to build a broad landscape of the disorder. We hope that patterns will emerge among these data that better predict and diagnose post-traumatic conditions such as PTS, post-concussive syndrome, and depression, in order to advance the treatments available to people who experience trauma.

Building a research framework for rich data collection is the first step to diving deeper into conditions that have been traditionally hard to study due to their multifactorial etiology, including post-traumatic conditions. We believe this study could serve as a model for collecting and synchronizing multidimensional datasets that touch the full lives of participants and has the potential to be transformative for mental / brain health research and care. We look forward to getting started!

Posted by Menachem Fromer, Ph.D., Mental Health Data Lead, Verily, and Sam McLean, MD, MPH Associate Professor of Anesthesia and Emergency Medicine; Director, Institute for Trauma Recovery, University of North Carolina