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Psychology-Led Teams Awarded $250,000 to Develop Behavioral Health Management Tools

June 20, 2013

Two teams of Drexel researchers, led by Drs. Evan Forman and Brian Daly of the psychology department, have been given seven months and $250,000 each from Shire Pharmaceuticals to develop a self-management tool that will aid patients with behavioral health disorders. The quarter-million-dollar grants were awarded as the result of a university-wide competition focused on providing assistance in the management of autism, ADHD, negative symptom schizophrenia, major depressive disorder and binge eating disorder.

Made possible by Drexel’s recent partnership with Shire Pharmaceuticals, the inaugural competition invited an unlimited number of teams from across the University to participate. From the initial pool, eight teams were selected to develop proposals and, of those eight, only two were selected to move forward with prototype development.

Both winning teams will be working from now until December to develop their prototypes. At the end of the seven-month timeframe, the Shire-Drexel Oversight Committee will decide if the prototypes are ready for commercialization or need further development. Additional funding and a maximum of 17 months will be considered for development efforts post-prototype.

We talked with winning-team leaders Forman and Daly to learn more about their projects.


Team “TakeControl” is collaborating with members of the iSchool to develop a multi-function smartphone app to aid individuals with binge eating disorder. Dr. Forman filled us in on the specifics:

Evan Forman

CoAS: How does the TakeControl app aid individuals with binge eating disorders?

Forman: The app will be able to learn about the individual over time, be able to provide in-the-moment customized interventions designed to prevent binge eating, and administer self-paced interactive cognitive-behavioral learning modules for binge eating disorder. For example, if an individual often binges when they’re feeling lonely, they can let the TakeControl app know and it will provide specialized guidance right then and there. In addition, the app will provide social connectivity to other people struggling with binge eating disorder, which many find to be an isolating condition.

CoAS: What demographic do you see using the TakeControl app?

Forman: We imagine a wide range of people will use this app.  In fact, we've already spoken to patients of varying socioeconomic statuses, ages, races, etc., who have expressed interest in using the app.

CoAS: Do you know if any other patient-self-management tools for binge eating disorder exist? If so, how will TakeControl be different?

Forman: No other app exists specifically for binge eating disorder. There are a few apps for eating disorders, but they are more geared towards anorexia and bulimia.

CoAS: Was binge eating a major focus of your research prior to the Shire-Drexel competition?

Forman: Our group is especially focused on obesity, but also has an interest in binge and out-of-control eating. We have also done work with web-, computer- and smartphone-based assessments and interventions.

CoAS: How did you connect with your interdisciplinary collaborators? Are these new collaborations or have you worked together in the past?

Forman: We worked with the Drexel Informatics Group on a previous project, which was to develop a system that allows researchers to easily create and administer “ecological momentary assessments” (EMAs) on a smartphone app. EMAs are small surveys that are administered repeatedly in the participants’ natural environment.

Members of Team “TakeControl”:

The College of Arts and Sciences
Evan Forman, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology
Meghan Butryn, Ph.D., assistant research professor of psychology
Adrienne Juarascio, Ph.D., adjunct instructor of psychology
Stephanie Manasse, B.A., psychology Ph.D. candidate

The iSchool, College of Information Science and Technology (Informatics Group)
Gaurav Naik, M.S., technical program manager
Jeffrey Segall, M.S., research engineer
Michele Spotts, B.S., graphic designer
Sean Quilty, B.S., multimedia specialist

Study Volunteers Needed

Team TakeControl is currently seeking individuals who engage in binge eating to provide feedback for the development of the TakeControl smartphone app. Volunteers may also volunteer to test the app, which will involve using TakeControl and providing detailed feedback through surveys and interviews. All participants will be compensated for their time.

Please contact Stephanie Goldstein (project coordinator) at 215-762-7312 or if you are interested in participating.


Dr. Daly of Team “Mind Fun” is collaborating with fellow researchers across the University to develop a gaming module to aid children with ADHD and challenges with executive function. Daly gives us the details:

CoAS: Most people are familiar with ADHD (or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), but could you tell us a little more about executive function?

Brian Daly

Daly: Executive function skills refer to a complex but well-delineated set of cognitive regulatory processes that underlie adaptive, goal-directed responding to situations. For example, a child’s ability to start and complete tasks (manage their time), recall and follow multi-step directions, plan, and self-monitor are impacted by their executive functions.

CoAS: What inspired the Mind Fun project?  Was this a major focus of your research prior to the Shire-Drexel competition?

Daly: Broadly speaking, my research program focuses on the development and assessment of interventions that improve the lives of children who are struggling with behavioral issues. With regards to ADHD and executive function, there has been a recent and significant increase in the development and sale of technological or computer-based programs whose goal is to improve attention or executive function. I work with children with ADHD and have experienced frustration in finding ways for these executive function interventions—typically applied in an office setting—to transfer to the "real-world." While children demonstrate improved attention or executive function on the computer program, they do not show signs of improvement when they are later evaluated in the classroom or at home. Thus, the team was inspired to design an engaging executive function intervention that could also be utilized by kids outside of the office. We deliberately chose a gaming platform because these types of modules are inherently engaging to, and frequently used by, children and adolescents. Our hope is that Mind Fun will improve children’s executive function skills through game-play, but also transfer their improved skills to activities such as initiating homework on time, cleaning their room, and problem-solving challenging situations.

CoAS: How is Mind Fun different than other video games/gaming apps children are already playing? Could you give an example of the types of games or tasks children will complete in Mind Fun?

Daly: The concept is that Mind Fun should actually be similar to other video games/ gaming apps children are already playing so that children are engaged and excited to play Mind Fun. In order to accomplish this goal, we are proposing to build an add-on module to Minecraft, a video game already in the marketplace that is immensely popular with youth. Our add-on module would embed tasks that require executive function skills. For example, children would be required to build a bedroom similar to their own, and then add in toys and clothes to make the room messy. Next, they would need to clean the room in Mind Fun in an efficient manner using their planning and organization skills. Feedback would be provided on their performance so that they could improve their skill development. The challenge we have as developers is to make sure the activities embedded in Mind Fun require the use of executive function skills, but are also set up in a manner that will still be interesting and engaging for children.

CoAS: How did you connect with your interdisciplinary collaborators? Are these new collaborations or have you worked together in the past?

Daly: Bill Regli was interested in working with faculty members from psychology for the Shire-Drexel competition and so he reached out to my department head, Dr. James Herbert. James put us in touch, and once Bill and I formed an initial idea, Bill reached out to Frank Lee because of his experience in developing games, while I brought James Connell onto the team because of his expertise in working with kids with externalizing behavior problems. While Bill and Frank have worked together before, the four of us as a team have never collaborated before, so this represents a very exciting opportunity to collaborate across disciplines.

Members of Team “Mind Fun”:

The College of Arts and Sciences
Brian Daly, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology

The iSchool, College of Information Science and Technology
William Regli, Ph.D., professor of computer and information technology and associate dean of research

Westphal College of Media Arts & Design
Frank Lee, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science, digital media

School of Education
James Connell, Ph.D., associate professor and clinical director and research fellow, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute