The START project with University of Reading
The Medical Research Council UK provides funding to scientists and academic bodies in the UK, providing the resources to research ways to improve human health, encourage skilled researchers and advance healthcare knowledge. Their research is carried out in the UK and across the globe. START is a project in which Therapy Box is lead technical partner.
Designed and developed in consultation with the University of Reading, START is an innovative new app which will be used as a basic autism screening test for children in India. A research project being funded by a Global Challenge Research Fund Foundation Award by the Medical Research Council UK, START aims to find an easy and affordable way for people with limited medical training to quickly test children and identify children who potentially have autism. University of Reading wanted to develop an Android app with eye-tracking built in, which could be used to measure children's responses to stimuli.
Generally eye-tracking requires the use of a cumbersome and costly external camera. Therapy Box has built a proprietary eye-tracking SDK for this project, which allows for accurate eye-tracking using only a device's built in webcam. This is used in a series of games to measure how quickly a child responds to changes in stimuli, and to check whether a user shows a preference for social stimuli (Children without ASD do, whereas children with ASD don't). Other games and questionnaires are also built into the app, which provide a more holistic view of the child being tested and helping to provide a more accurate diagnosis.
As the app is generally expected to be used in rural areas of India, it works primarily offline and data is stored locally. When the device is online again, data is pushed to an online for use in research and analysis.
More than two million children in India could benefit from new research into a new low-cost ways to detect autism risk. Dr Teodora Gliga, one of the researchers from Birkbeck University said: "In some low and middle-resource settings, such as in India, there is a paucity of child mental health professionals. As part of STAARS, a longitudinal project of infants at-risk for autism and ADHD, we have developed a variety of technologies for measuring autism risk in children, that are independent of clinical expertise. We are very happy to have the opportunity to translate this research into clinical applications. This work is important for us as it will inform on how transferable our screening tools are to different setting and cultures."