Geisel’s Center for Technology and Behavioral Health Receives $7.1M Grant to Expand Work in Digital Therapeutics

Lisa Marsch, PhD. Photo by Kurt Wehde

The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth’s Center for Technology and Behavioral Health (CTBH) has received a five-year renewal grant of more than $7.1 million from The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an institute under the National Institutes of Health dedicated to supporting scientific research on drug use and its consequences.

“I'm very excited for Dr. Marsch and her colleagues in the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health to receive this renewed support to pursue improvements to treating substance use disorders,” says Geisel’s dean Duane A. Compton, PhD. “The digital tools developed by CTBH, and its collaborative partners, provide ongoing innovative approaches to help individuals in need manage their disorder.”

Since its inception nearly 10 years ago, CTBH has received continuous grant funding from NIDA as a designated research Center of Excellence and has become a national and global leader in the field of digital therapeutics for substance use disorders. Through accelerating the development, evaluation, and implementation of scalable, science-based treatments while training the next generation of researchers in digital health research, this renewal grant allows CTBH to continue building on their work in digital therapeutics.

“Our interdisciplinary team has long focused on using these digital tools help people develop new skills and a repertoire of behaviors in order to change self-defeating patterns of substance use,” says Lisa Marsch, PhD, CTBH director, and the Andrew G. Wallace Professor in Psychiatry at Geisel. “I’m very excited about this opportunity to work in new directions and with new partners—one priority is scaling up science-based digital health tools by working with government, industry, and scientific partners—to have a larger public impact on models of care.”

Marsch notes that the use of digital health solutions has accelerated among patients and consumers alike. Digital therapeutics—neither wellness nor health promotion apps—are clinically effective software used in the prevention, treatment, or management of a disease or disorder.

Beyond expanding their collaborative partnerships to bring science into the conversation about accessible treatments and enhancing their work to link digital health measurement to inform personalized therapies, CTBH is accelerating research and mentorship with transdiagnostic digital treatments to also manage mental and physical health issues.

“Transdiagnostic interventions are useful in targeting multiple issues—if people have both chronic pain and addiction, the interventions can target that combination,” Marsch explains. “The technology can be structured so that it is flexibly responsive to what people need.”

Ethics along with broadening diversity and inclusiveness of digital health researchers are other new areas of focus.

Because technology is so ubiquitous in our daily lives and central to digital therapeutics, ethical issues beyond privacy and data sharing need to be considered, Marsch says. Researchers involved in studies need to ensure that people clearly understand what informed consent means: What is being done with their data, who is seeing it, and how it’s being shared in the digital world. Passive sensing technology, used to gather information in a natural setting, may collect conversations of others who are not part of a study and haven’t given consent. “These are all important ethical considerations when thinking about digital health, digital data, and the mass accumulation of sensitive information,” she says.

Partnering with two training programs spanning multiple institutions—City University of New York, Columbia University Medical Center, and Rutgers University, and University of California San Francisco—for underrepresented minority scholars ranging from undergraduate students through junior faculty, CTBH is helping trainees who are interested in receiving mentorship and resources specific to digital health research. The center will also fund and host fellows and visiting scholars to receive intensive training in the expanding field.

CTBH is reviewing the scope of the literature on digital therapeutics to learn what has already been developed for different communities, such as Native communities, Black communities, and others along with important cultural considerations needed to engage people of different groups. Understanding this and raising awareness around this issue is critically important, Marsch says, in order to reduce or eradicate health disparities rather than perpetuate them.

“The surge of activity and investment in digital health solutions, not just telehealth, is not going away and will continue to grow. We need to bring science to have the most impact on clinical outcomes and bring best practices to the forefront. I’m very struck by the opportunity we have—we have a lot of work to do,” Marsch says.

Leadership of Center for Technology and Behavioral Health

Center Director and Administrative Core Director, Lisa A. Marsch, PhD

Treatment Development and Evaluation Core

Core Director, Alan J. Budney, PhD

Core Deputy Director, Nicholas Jacobson, PhD

Emerging Technologies and Data Analytics Core

Core Director, David Kotz, PhD

Dissemination and Implementation Core

Core Director, Sarah E. Lord, PhD

Core Deputy Director, Aimee N. Campbell, PhD, MSW

Pilot Core

Core Director, Catherine Stanger, PhD

Center Grant Operations Manager, Sonia Oren, MEd