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(MRC CASE) Breaking Free with Artificial Intelligence: using data-driven insights to improve digital health support for substance use disorders


Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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Dr C Yau , Dr David Wong No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Digital health technologies hold promise for transforming healthcare by expanding the ways in which health data can be used. From individual patient management to large-scale organisational planning, an evidence-based approach based on real world data-driven insights is seen as the way to optimise the delivery of healthcare. Artificial intelligence technologies are seen as vital to this endeavour through the development of machine-based algorithms to learn from noisy real-world data and identify patterns and associations that might reveal novel opportunities for health or service improvement. For example, in 2019, 267,449 people were treated for substance use disorders (SUD) in England. Evidence-based psychosocial and behavioural interventions are required to meet the treatment needs of this population. Lack of resources for SUD services means that patients are increasingly being offered online interventions which opens the possibility for enhanced digital experiences through more sophisticated use of their data.

In this project, we will explore fully anonymized data from patients receiving digitally delivered SUD treatment to identify risk factors associated with SUD and the effectiveness of the digital treatment regime. This will be conducted in collaboration with Breaking Free Online (BFO) – a digital health and behavioural science organisation – which provides digital cognitive-behavioural therapy for SUD at scale. The BFO platform have supported approximately 38,000 patients via commissioning treatment providers since 2010. BFO is delivered across approximately 300 treatment services, including the UKs largest providers, e.g. NHS and ‘Change, Grow, Live’. Since 2019, BFO has been delivered in North America – increasing this international footprint is now a major priority. Outputs from this research will be evaluated by BFO for real-world inclusion in the BFO Virtual Care Platform providing a unique opportunity to directly influence real world care and support for SUD individuals with your research.

The candidate should have a strong interest in developing a career in artificial intelligence research and possess a strong quantitative background obtained from a first degree in mathematics, physics, engineering or computer science. The candidate will be required to train and acquire skills in advanced statistical programming. It is expected that the candidate will develop research outputs that will be publishable in the internationally leading scientific journals as well as machine learning conferences such as NeurIPS and ICML. Interdisciplinary collaborations are also embedded within the PhD study period to give the candidate exposure to substance misuse, behavioural science and mental health practice.

Yau Group: http://cwcyau.github.io
Breaking Free Group: https://www.breakingfreegroup.com/

Entry Requirements:
Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

UK applicants interested in this project should make direct contact with the Primary Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. International applicants (including EU nationals) must ensure they meet the academic eligibility criteria (including English Language) as outlined before contacting potential supervisors to express an interest in their project. Eligibility can be checked via the University Country Specific information page (https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/international/country-specific-information/) .

If your country is not listed you must contact the Doctoral Academy Admissions Team providing a detailed CV (to include academic qualifications – stating degree classification(s) and dates awarded) and relevant transcripts.

Following the review of your qualifications and with support from potential supervisor(s), you will be informed whether you can submit a formal online application.

To be considered for this project you MUST submit a formal online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the MRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) website www.manchester.ac.uk/mrcdtpstudentships

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/study/research/apply/equality-diversity-inclusion/

Funding Notes

This is a CASE studentship in partnership with Breaking Free Group. Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend only. The University of Manchester aims to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK. We are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


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