Jewish Healthcare Foundation Approves $517K to Support an Innovative Development in Personalized Treatment and Access to Mental Health Support for Teens

Youth advocates celebrated the proclamation to declare May 23, 2021 Teen Mental Health Awareness day in the City of Pittsburgh and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) on August 30 approved new grants to develop an artificial intelligence solution that provides a new approach to research, clinical decision making, and a personalized, safer model of medical experimentation and to extend JHF's efforts in support of teen mental health.

Using Machine Learning to Personalize Treatment

JHF approved a two-year grant of $237,000 in support of the Digital Twin Eye project at the UPMC Eye and Ear Institute, a pioneering technology initiative that brings the frontiers of predictive analytics to health care. Digital Twin Eye will use big data to provide more effective, personalized treatment for conditions that lead to blindness.

The goal of the Digital Twin Eye project is to develop a framework for an automated personalized medicine system, allowing for more effective treatment based on individual health data paired with predictive analytics. The Digital Twin Eye model will leverage decades of history and medical records to build a scalable dataset to train and test artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms on characteristics over time. These data sets will include treatment history, demographics, genetics, and medical history, as well as socioeconomic standing, education level, and other social determinants of health. As the AI algorithms learn from patient data, the Digital Twin Eye will provide an individualized treatment course for the patient that considers the range of factors that may influence disease progression and a patient's ability to adhere to treatment. Digital twins have been used in other industries for a while, but this innovative project brings the concept to medicine and medical decision making.

The grant will provide partial funding for a full-time lab manager/researcher, postdoc and clinical research fellows, and interns as well as for equipment services, server deployment, and publications.

Creating a Space for Teens to Address Their Mental Health Needs and Supporting JHF's Teen Mental Health Initiative

JHF approved two grants focusing on teen mental health: a two-year, $100,000 grant to Friendship Circle in support of the creation of a drop-in community space where teens can access wellness stigma-free support and connection with peers and a one-year, $180,000 grant to continue JHF's PA Youth Advocacy Network and the Teen Mental Health Collaborative.

The COVID-19 pandemic took a significant toll on the already-fragile emotional health of the nation's youth. As teens struggled with the abrupt transition to online schooling, separation from peers, and concerns about their own health and that of family and friends, their ability to access support for new or worsening mental health was severely curtailed. In an effort to address this crisis, JHF is revisiting pre-pandemic plans to create a pilot for a dedicated teen mental health space at Friendship Circle, centrally located in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, to provide a safe, stigma-free place for teens to engage in mental wellness programs and connect to higher levels of mental health supports when needed. Programs will include regular classes in wellness and mindfulness for teens, roundtable discussions and expert panels, and trainings which explore wellness topics, self-discovery, and self-expression. The space will be open to middle school and high school teens as well as young adults. Friendship Circle is pursuing matching grant funds for capital development.

Building on existing JHF teen mental health initiatives, this grant support will enable JHF to continue work in youth advocacy and strengthening community collaborations around the issue of teen mental health through 2022. JHF will serve as the convening organization for the PA Youth Advocacy Network and foster continued collaboration between community organizations who participated in the Teen Mental Health Collaborative in 2020 and 2021.

The aim of the PA Youth Advocacy Network is to foster collaboration and learning among youth leaders committed to promoting mental health and awareness in their communities, empower the youth voice in advocating for systems-level change to improve the safety-net for teen mental health, and build advocacy skills. Through the grant, JHF will continue to provide coaching support and foster collaboration with youth-serving professionals who participate in the Teen Mental Health Collaborative around topics of interest, such as connecting with health plans and health systems, building staff skills for mental health supports, and collaborating on youth programs across communities. 

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