The verdict is in! BiAffect takes home the grand prize

It was no easy task, but the judges have made their final call. It’s with great pleasure that we share our winner: BiAffect, a ResearchKit study designed to unobtrusively understand mood and cognition in bipolar disorder. BiAffect will receive the $200,000 grand prize to further develop their study and launch it in the App Store.

Charting new territory in bipolar disorder research
“In essence, the vision of BiAffect is a pioneering platform that will serve as a “fitness tracker” of the brain. The Mood Challenge has helped us realize this vision, with the ultimate goal of addressing the needs of a population that is often tech-savvy but currently poorly served by existing mHealth tools,” said BiAffect team lead Dr. Alex Leow, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Bioengineering at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

For the 5.7 million adults who live with bipolar disorder in the U.S., navigating life can pose many challenges. Today, diagnosis and treatment relies on careful examination by a physician, aided by self-report or caretaker-informed questionnaires. Using these methods to predict an imminent change in mood is rarely straightforward. This puts individuals at risk of unexpected changes in mood that may interfere with their daily activities.

BiAffect tracks how keystroke dynamics like typing speed, frequency of texting, and social media use are altered during depressive and manic episodes, to uncover new insights about mood change markers. The study’s anticipated findings hold much potential for transforming bipolar diagnosis and treatment.

How the Challenge unfolded
The Challenge is a New Venture Fund program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It launched in April 2016 with a $500,000 prize purse, calling upon researchers and technologists to submit proposals for ResearchKit studies that will further our understanding of mood and how it relates to daily life.

BiAffect and four other teams were recommended by a panel of judges to participate as semi-finalists in the Virtual Accelerator. Each team received $20,000 and expert mentorship as they iterated their designs and attended a 2-day in-person Boot Camp. BiAffect and Aware Study advanced as finalists to the Finalist Testing and Incubation phase of the Challenge. They each received an additional $100,000 to develop their ResearchKit designs into prototypes and pilot with users. At the end of this phase, they submitted a final report of preliminary learnings from user testing, data analysis, and plans for full development to compete for the $200,000 grand prize.  

“This program will help advance mood research in the U.S.,” said Paul Tarini, RWJF Senior Program Officer. “The participating studies are showing how platforms like ResearchKit offer the potential for new breakthroughs in mental health research, and we’re excited to see BiAffect’s novel work in bipolar disorder research.”

What’s next?
With their additional prize money, BiAffect will finalize their ResearchKit study to prepare for App Store launch. Our sincerest congratulations to BiAffect—it has been an honor to be a part of your journey. To learn more and follow the study, visit

Congratulations to the Finalists!

We are thrilled to announce the finalists in the Mood Challenge for ResearchKit. Following Semi-Finalist Presentations last month, our judges have selected Aware Study and BiAffect as the two teams to receive $100,000 each and advance to the Finalist Incubation and Testing phase of the Challenge!

The Challenge, a New Venture Fund program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and powered by Luminary Labs, launched in April seeking proposals for ResearchKit studies that will further our understanding of mood and how it relates to our daily lives, health, and well-being.

In July, five semi-finalists received $20,000 and entered the Virtual Accelerator, which kicked off with a two-day in-person Boot Camp featuring experts in ResearchKit, iOS UX/UI, medical research, and psychology. Proposals aimed to bring fresh insights and capabilities around mood, biology, and social context to both researchers and users with new methods for mental health diagnostics, clinical care delivery, daily wellness tracking, and behavioral interventions.

The two finalists will spend the coming months developing their designs into prototypes to pilot with iPhone users. Next April, the finalists will submit their Round 3 Submissions, including a final report of preliminary learnings from user testing, data analysis, and plans for full development. One winner will be chosen to receive the $200,000 award and finalize their ResearchKit study for launch in the App Store.

“Aware Study and BiAffect are using unique mobile sensing capabilities to capture unprecedented and socially contextualized data while working toward predictive models of mood,” said Paul Tarini, Senior Program Officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “These ResearchKit studies have the potential to transform our understanding of these conditions and improve millions of patients’ lives.”

Want to help? Learn more about Aware Study and BiAffect and sign up to try out the apps at

Congratulations to the finalists:

Aware Study 
Aware aims to be the largest applied research study to assess mood and its relationship to PTSD and will seek to tailor insights to an individual’s context. The study lasts 28 days and asks participants to respond to surveys every week and perform two daily tasks, all while collecting data passively.

BiAffect is a system for understanding mood and neurocognitive functioning in bipolar disorder using keystroke dynamics, such as typing speed and errors, to track and predict mood episodes. Alteration in communication is one of the main, problematic symptoms of bipolar disorder. This study will unobtrusively monitor non-verbal speech/behaviors to improve our understanding of mood disorders and provide a means of predicting future mood fluctuations.

Semi-Finalist Presentations are Today!

Today, the five semi-finalists will convene at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey to present their Round 2 Submissions of designs for ResearchKit studies. The Mood Challenge judges will score each team based on the Challenge criteria and two finalists will be selected to receive $100,000 to develop their designs into prototypes to pilot with iPhone users.

Over the past six weeks, the semi-finalists participated in the Virtual Accelerator, which kicked off with a two-day in-person Boot Camp featuring experts in ResearchKit, iOS UX/UI, medical research, and psychology. Teams have been hard at work since Boot Camp, engaging our mentors as they’ve progressed their initial proposals into designs for ResearchKit studies.

Today’s opening remarks will be made by Steve Downs, Chief Technology and Strategy Officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Sara Holoubek, CEO and Founder of Luminary Labs, among others.

Follow along on Twitter and stay tuned for the finalist announcement next month!


Meet the Semi-Finalists: Q&A with Mood Toolkit

This post is part of a special “Meet the Semi-Finalists” series, featuring Q&As with the five semi-finalists of the Mood Challenge for ResearchKit.

Our final “Meet the Semi-Finalists” post features Mood Toolkit, a ResearchKit study that will provide mental health researchers with a configurable toolkit to study daily emotional health and wellbeing through the ResearchKit framework. The study will combine biometric data from external sensors such as heart rate monitors, with user surveys and machine learning to generate and validate personalized insights and interventions to improve emotional health.

Mood Toolkit is one of five semi-finalists competing to become a finalist and receive $100,000 to develop their designs into prototypes to be piloted with iPhone users. Stay tuned for the finalist announcement in October!

Tell us about your team’s background.
The team leaders of Mood Toolkit are Tim Trull (Professor of Psychological Sciences, MU; studies mood, mood dysregulation, ambulatory assessment, addictions) and Yi Shang (Professor of Computer Science, MU; mobile computing, machine learning). Additional team members include Will Morrison (MU Computer Science), Sean Lane (Assistant Professor of Psychological Sciences, Purdue), Nick Wergeles (MU Computer Science), Peng Sun (MU Computer Science), Zeshan Peng (MU Computer Science), and Luke Guerdan (MU Computer Science).

Why is this Challenge important to you? What inspired your proposal for a ResearchKit study?
We have worked as a team for four years on several projects targeting emotion dysregulation and addictions, building our own apps (Android), integrating sensor data, and conducting analyses. The Mood Challenge inspired us to build an app using ResearchKit, which we had not done previously. Many aspects of the ResearchKit platform allow us to address important questions and issues in the emotion and mood research field. We also used the opportunity to build an app that can be used by many other mood, emotion, and psychological researchers in their own studies.

What have been the biggest challenges and successes in developing your study thus far?
The biggest challenge has been to explore and determine the feasibility of some of our ideas. The ResearchKit platform allows for the collection of massive amounts of data from different channels, but one must keep in mind participant burden and acceptability. Our biggest success is developing some working prototypes and adding some design features that we were introduced to during Boot Camp and in consultation with experts.

You’ve entered the Virtual Accelerator phase, which includes expert mentorship and participation in a live Boot Camp. What’s the biggest insight you’ve uncovered through this process so far?
The importance of good design, participant engagement, and the power of ResearchKit.