Mason hosts international symposium on digital therapeutics

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Q and A Panel at the International Symposium on Digital Therapeutics. Photo credit Jessie Ferguson
Q&A Panel at the International Symposium on Digital Therapeutics. Photo by Shayla Brown

George Mason University and Mason Korea partner NC Soft hosted a symposium at Mason Square earlier this month to advance the development and use of Digital Therapeutics. 

Digital Therapeutics, also known as DTx, is an emerging type of evidence-based medical therapy that uses qualified software programs to prevent, manage, or treat medical conditions. 

DTx products in development or already on the market can help treat diabetes, provide oncology treatment and management, and address neuropsychiatric disorders including anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder, said John P. Doran, a Mason Korea computer game design instructor.  

Virginia Serious Game Institute (VSGI), under the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA), is a major force for interdisciplinary research on DTx that aims to support the entrepreneurial goals of students through serious game technology. Their motto for DTx is “games for good.” 

The symposium welcomed many guests who use DTx in their respective medical and/or software development fields. Speakers touched on an array of topics regarding the pros and cons of utilizing DTx.  

“We’re always looking forward to expanding those international partners, which is another reason why I’m so excited about the symposium,” said Amarda Shehu, a professor in the department of computer science and associate vice president of research for the Institute of Digital Innovation (IDIA) in her opening remarks.  

Regulation is an important consideration for these types of treatments. 

“If you open up your phone and put in ‘addiction treatment’ or ‘addiction recovery’ in the search box of your app store, you’ll find dozens or possibly even several hundreds of applications… but how many of these applications do you think are actually regulated?” said Stacie Gutowski, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) program officer at the Office of Translational Initiatives and Program Innovations under the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).  

Gutowski noted that there are only two FDA cleared apps for substance abuse disorder, funded by the NIDA. 

“While there is a lot of optimism about the [financial] growth of digital therapeutics, it is important to note that its true goal is to help other people,” said Doran.  

“Due to the fact that DTx can track patients' actions and interactions while they’re using the products, a DTx can be tweaked and customized very easily,” said Doran. “In this way, DTx can be more flexible than many other types of treatment methods, which address a patients’ individual needs.” 

There are still some challenges to DTx that have to be addressed as well, such as patient data privacy and sharing, said Stephen Varga, MD, director of trauma education and simulation at Inova Fairfax Hospital and assistant professor of medical education at University of Virginia School of Medicine.  

“These are all things that are going to pose challenges when you present these digital health options to physicians as how you’re going to protect the patient’s identity moving forward,” Varga said. 

“In just a few short years, DTx has become an exciting, creative, and competitive new field and frontier. We’re also seeing more openness to DTx being covered by various health plans,” said Doran. “As pandemic anxiety and depression continue to harm people’s mental health, DTx are more important than ever before.”