60 Seconds with Maxime Taquet
4 May 2020
Max Taquet is an Academic Foundation Doctor within the Department of Psychiatry, he joined after completing graduate-entry medicine at the University of Oxford. Before studying medicine Max did a PhD in engineering sciences focused on the development of new brain imaging technologies. He did his doctoral research between UCLouvain (in Belgium) and Harvard Medical School where he was a research fellow. In his spare time Max developed an app with a few friends to monitor mood and behaviour. The app was used in a reality TV show in France and enabled the collection of 10 million data points among 60,000 people who reported their mood and behaviour several times a day. He is now passionate about combining data of many kinds (brain imaging, mobile phone, genetics, etc.) to better diagnose and treat mental illness.
Tell us a little about yourself and what attracted you to studying/working at the University of Oxford?
After my PhD, I wanted to study medicine to see the patients beyond the MRI scans that I was analysing. I heard that Oxford had a graduate-entry medical program which would allow me to study medicine in a shorter time with an emphasis on self-learning, bedside teaching, and academic medicine. This was really appealing to me, and so I applied.
What is your vision for the team/project/research you study/work with?
About 99% of research in psychiatry relies on diagnoses, be it to recruit patients into clinical trials, to define cases and controls in biomarker research, or to assess outcomes of epidemiological studies, so we need to make sure that the diagnoses used are both reliable and valid. This is not yet the case for many mental health disorders. We need to leverage all the information at our disposal to improve this situation. Mobile phone data provide accurate measurements of mood and behaviour. Genetic data tell us where some mechanisms of mental illness originate from and how these mechanisms are shared between current diagnostic categories. And brain imaging data enables us to link genetic and environmental factors to mood and behaviour. I think that by capturing the complex nature of mental illness in this multimodal way, we have a chance to improve our approach to diagnosis, which would have ramifications in the whole of mental health research.
What is currently at the top of your to-do list?
To start mining the UK Biobank data for signs that responses to antidepressant treatments are related to brain imaging. This is interesting because if we want to move away from current diagnostic categories then we need something else to compare our candidate biomarkers to and response to treatment is one such variable. Digital phenotype from mobile phone data is another.
How did you get to where you are today?
I have been driven by a passion to apply engineering skills to big problems and I have been extremely lucky to meet incredibly smart people along the way.
Who or what inspires you?
I get inspired by passionate speakers from within and outside academia—mostly speakers who argue vividly for something which they believe to be right but that is not (yet) accepted by the majority.
If you were not in Your study programme/job currently, what would you like to be doing?
I would work in education. I think there is an exciting movement generating and embracing evidence-based practice to inform educational strategies. This must be a fascinating challenge.