Meet the Semi-Finalists: Q&A with MoodSync

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 fourth “Meet the Semi-Finalists” post features MoodSync, a ResearchKit study that will identify how daily mood and social environments are associated with biological aging among family caregivers. This population is at high risk for mental and physical health problems caused by chronic emotional distress. By triangulating assessments of social interactions, mood and affect, and cell aging via saliva collections, MoodSync will improve our understanding of how caregivers can thrive under chronic stress.

MoodSync 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.
Our team includes Elissa Epel, PhD, Wendy Mendes, PhD, Ashley Mason, PhD, Rashida Brown, MS, Eve Ekman, PhD, and Alexandra Crosswell, PhD. We are researchers at the University of California – San Francisco and the University of California – Berkeley. We hold appointments across several departments and centers, including the UCSF Departments of Psychiatry and Medicine, the UCSF Center for Health and Community and the UCSF Osher Center, and the UCB Department of Epidemiology.  We study how emotions affect daily behavior, relationships, and biological aging.

Why is this Challenge important to you? What inspired your proposal for a ResearchKit study?
We are inspired and excited about the opportunity to build a ResearchKit study in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and New Venture Fund because it has the potential for discoveries about how to utilize the power of our emotions to enhance well being and longevity. Our previous work suggests that caregivers, an underserved population with an invaluable societal role, are at much greater risk for psychological and physiological problems and accelerated biological aging, relative to non-caregivers. The ResearchKit platform will help us to untangle dimensions of emotional complexity, relationships, and biology, so as to identify the ideal targets for future interventions aimed at promoting well being.

What have been the biggest challenges and successes in developing your study thus far?
Our largest challenge to date is that we are eager to develop the best research platform possible to answer our research questions, yet we can see the sky is the limit. The ResearchKit platform is incredibly flexible and has so much to offer, and this highlights one of the most difficult aspects of the project: staying focused on our research question. We are working hard to ensure that we select the best fitting measurement tools, while not being distracted by the myriad possibilities that the ResearchKit platform has to offer.

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?
In learning how ResearchKit studies have been done so far, we have realized that formulating a study that places participant engagement and retention as the centerpiece is crucial. Ensuring a “sticky” and magnetic interface that compels the participant-user to interact with the app, and selecting a discrete data collection time period that is feasible, are top priorities for our team.