1. Program Overview 

The Massachusetts AI and Technology Center for Connected Care in Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease (MassAITC) is a multidisciplinary National Institute of Aging (NIA) P30 Research Collaboratory (1P30AG073107-01) spanning five sites – the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brandeis University and Northeastern University. The Center aims to foster multidisciplinary research on the development, validation and translation of emerging AI-enhanced technologies to more effectively support healthy aging and the care of patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease Related Dementias (AD/ADRD) in their home environments.  

MassAITC is pleased to issue a call for proposals to support pilot studies on wearables, contactless sensors, emerging machine learning, AI and data-driven visualization technologies that have the potential to improve the health of older adults and individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias. MassAITC has a particular focus on supporting successful aging at home through the development of technologies that better connect older adults, caregivers, and clinicians. 

2. Funding Opportunity Description 

For the upcoming year, the MassAITC will fund up to 15 pilot projects. Although most projects will be funded for a 12-month period with a maximum budget of $100,000 in direct costs, higher levels of funding (i.e., up to $200,000 in direct costs) and multi-year projects will also be considered with appropriate justification. 

We encourage pilot investigators to leverage the state-of-art research facilities, diverse cohorts, and translation services provided by the MassAITC partner institutions (see https://massaitc.org/resources/). The Center can also provide guidance for investigators regarding the design and conduct of interdisciplinary pilot projects that address stakeholder needs and leverage promising technologies suitable for pilot research projects. Learn more at https://www.massaitc.org/ 

Key dates and URLs: 

  • Application Submission: https://www.a2collective.ai/pilotawards
  • Applications Open: Jan. 10, 2022
  • Q&A Webinar: Jan. 18, 2022  
  • Applications Close: Feb. 18, 2022  
  • Awards Granted: May 30, 2022  

If prospective applicants would like assistance in assembling an appropriate investigative team, we would be pleased to provide consultative assistance. Please contact: pilot-info@massaitc.org 

3. Pilot Research Focus Areas 

Most older Americans want to age at home, yet chronic physical and cognitive conditions or environmental barriers pose challenges for them to do so. Successful aging at home will require effective ways for older adults to utilize and access health care services from their homes, but barriers currently exist including a lack of technologies that have been specifically developed for older adults, cognitively-impaired older adults, caregivers, and their clinicians, as well as a lack of decision support tools that consider the unique needs of monitoring older adults in their homes while helping them maintain functional independence.  

We solicit pilot projects that focus on bridging these gaps by improving accuracy, decreasing algorithmic bias, enhancing usability, decreasing burden, and improving accessibility of AI-enhanced technologies. MassAITC anticipates that addressing these challenges will require cross-cutting technology solutions proposed by interdisciplinary teams. In this application cycle, MassAITC solicits pilot projects focused in three broad areas: 

  1. Development and validation of AI-enhanced devices with lower burden, reduced algorithmic bias, improved accuracy, improved access and/or enhanced usability for patients and caregivers. 
  1. Development and validation of AI-enhanced data analytic solutions to distill multi-modal sensor and cognitive performance data into interpretable and actionable information to enhance self-care, support caregivers, and/or improve clinical and caregiving decision making. 
  1. Development and validation of data-driven visualization technologies and systems that distill large volumes of data for patients, caregivers and/or clinicians. 

All pilot applications must describe why the problem that they are addressing is a critical barrier to achieving successful aging and/or Alzheimer’s Disease care at home, and how the AI methods and technologies that they propose are well-suited to address the problem. We briefly describe two illustrative examples below. 

3.1 Aging Pilot Project Example 

  • Problem: Aging-related declines in gait speed, balance, and muscle strength can compromise the ability to maintain an active and independent lifestyle. Yet, most older adults do not engage regularly in physical activity, which can impact functional health and independence in later life. Further, wearable devices that detect steps and other forms of physical activity can perform poorly for older adults due to difference in gait and other characteristics relative to the population current such devices are optimized for.  
  • Example Solutions: A potential pilot could validate new AI-enhanced devices and/or algorithms that are specifically tailored to older adults or provide new capabilities such as the ability to adapt monitoring outputs to individual impairments to improve accuracy.  

3.2 AD/ADRD Pilot Project Example 

  • Problem: The progression of cognitive, psychiatric, and motor symptoms is an unfortunate hallmark of AD/ADRD and neurodegenerative diseases in general. For patients, this progression of symptoms often leads to a need for more care to maintain patient safety and quality of life. Clinicians are often asked to advise families on how to navigate transitions such as hiring a professional caregiver or moving to assisted living or nursing home care, but have do so with limited objective information on changes in caregiver burden and the level of support patients need to perform activities of daily living (ADLs, e.g., eating, dressing, toileting). 
  • Example Solutions: Technology and AI tools in the homes of individuals with AD/ADRD can provide objective data to support decision making about the level of caregiver support needed. A potential pilot could assess changing levels of independence through developing AI-assisted monitoring of ADLs as well as the level of caregiver assistance that is required.  

4. Eligibility 

4.1 Institution 

  • Eligible institutions include colleges, universities, medical or nursing schools, health care systems or settings, or other fiscally responsible organizations including for-profit corporations within the United States. No research may be performed outside of the United States.  

4.2 Principal Investigator 

  • Any individual(s) with the skills, knowledge, and resources necessary to carry out the proposed research is invited to work with their organization to develop an application. 
  • Applicants must hold an appropriate position at an eligible institution by the start date of the award or be otherwise eligible to serve as a Principal Investigator as determined by their organization. 
  • Applicants from under-represented racial and ethnic groups as well as individuals with disabilities are strongly encouraged to apply for funding. 

5. How to Apply 

Interested applicants should submit a completed application at https://www.a2collective.ai/pilotawards by no later than Feb 18, 2022.   

Proposals will be reviewed and applicants who have submitted highly rated proposals may be invited for a presentation and Q&A if reviewers have additional questions. Final selections will be made thereafter.  

Proposals that have been selected for funding will be required to submit additional documentation to NIH including a detailed budget, a project management plan, human subjects protections information and recruitment criteria, and other information. 

6. Pilot Selection Criteria 

The review process will consider the following criteria and weigh them as appropriate for each application to assign an overall score. Note that an application does not need to be strong in all categories to be judged likely to have significant impact and be a strong fit for this pilot program. 

6.1 Scientific Merit  

  • Does the project explore innovative technologies and propose forward-looking solutions with the potential to significantly improve successful aging and AD/ADRD care? 
  • Does the project focus on development, validation, and translation of AI-enhanced technologies?  
  • Are the proposed analytic methods, technological approaches and/or study design technically feasible and deployed appropriately? 
  • Are health equity considerations integrated into the design elements of research plan? 
  • Can the study be feasibly completed within the proposed timeline? 

6.2 Strengths of the Investigators  

  • Do the investigator(s) have a track record of innovative and high-impact research? 
  • Does the team’s prior work and expertise support the likelihood that they can accomplish the proposed project? 
  • Does the team include both technology and clinically-oriented collaborators? 

6.3 Impact and Translation 

  • If successful, does the pilot project have the potential to lead to high-impact publications, future grants and/or translation opportunities. 
  • Does the project strengthen a connection with industry, foster a new start-up venture, or enable a translational grant submission? 

6.4 Human Subjects  

  • Investigators will need to present a clear plan for how human subjects and data privacy risks will be managed. 

6.5 Leveraging MassAITC Resources 

  • Does the project leverage the resources in the center to improve efficiency (e.g. use of MassAITC core facilities, cohorts or other resources)? 

6.6 Resources Sharing  

  • Datasets: Will the project produce datasets that are properly anonymized and curated with high quality ground truth that can be used by future MassAITC researchers or the research community at large? 
  • Software/Hardware:  Will software and/or hardware developed using pilot project resources be made available to future MassAITC pilot projects or to the research community at large?  

7. Pilot Grant Recipient Expectations 

The pilot project PI will meet with an assigned mentor from the MassAITC at quarterly intervals during the lifecycle of the pilot project. The assigned mentor will be available to help strategize, identify resources that are available, assist with navigating pitfalls, etc. Pilot investigators will be required to engage with the MassAITC by:  

  • Participating and offering new content in their area of expertise to enhance the training activities of the Center (e.g., tutorial on relevant topic, developing a “best practices” document). 
  • Attending and presenting at the in-person MassAITC Annual Meeting in Boston, MA 
  • Presenting webinars in the Center’s seminar series. 
  • Exploring methods for sharing datasets, software and hardware platforms, and other artifacts across center investigators to enhance future pilot studies.