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Iris Sommer elected Distinguished Lorentz Fellow

15 December 2021
Iris Sommer

Iris Sommer, psychiatrist, author, and Professor of Psychiatry at the University Medical Center Groningen, has been appointed Distinguished Lorentz Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS).

This appointment allows Sommer to dedicate five months to her research on a nearly full-time basis in 2022, together with a multidisciplinary team. Her research focuses on the online monitoring of the mental health of psychiatric patients by means of automatic speech analysis.

Linguistics and psychiatry

Speech contains a wealth of information about the thoughts and feelings of the speaker. This can be seen in the specific words someone uses, but also in the way someone speaks. Research shows that certain aspects of speech can indicate the presence of a psychiatric disorder. Using artificial intelligence, computer models have been built in which measures of capacity and acoustic measures are weighted so that they become very sensitive to subtle deviations in speech.

The first research results indicate that certain aspects of speech are difficult to perceive without aid. Pattern recognition using artificial intelligence algorithms can more easily recognize such subtle deviations and indicate whether someone is suffering from psychotic symptoms such as delusions. Using automatic speech analysis, a patient can be assessed for psychosis at an early stage and any relapse after recovery can be quickly detected.

Speech meter

Sommer is very happy with the appointment with the NIAS. ‘I can focus on this research full time for several months in the coming year, which is fantastic, and it’s a great opportunity to help further the research by collaborating with colleagues from other disciplines,’ says Sommer. In the research, a biomarker will be developed that indicates whether someone is losing control over their mental faculties. Both the practitioner and the patient can receive an online signal that something may be wrong.

Iris Sommer is conducting this research together with a team of researchers in the field of linguistics, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience. Through the appointment with the NIAS, we are able to take the necessary steps to make a clinical application possible in the future and to facilitate its use in other countries as well.

In recent years, the UMCG and the University of Groningen have built up a considerable track record in the field of artificial intelligence and eHealth, and Sommer's research is another contribution to this.

Last modified:20 December 2021 12.20 p.m.
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