Can an iPad Game Detect Alzheimer’s?

2014-08-28

Pfizer wants to find out if an iOS game can detect and track the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

The pharmaceutical giant has struck a deal with therapeutic game developer Akili Interactive Labs to test whether Project:EVO, which runs on iPhones and iPads, can discern cognitive differences in healthy older adults at risk of developing the disease. The agreement will be announced Thursday morning.

Depending on the results, the game could be used to spot early signs of Alzheimer’s and measure response to treatment. As far as Akili knows, it’s the first time a pharmaceutical company has tested a video game’s ability to identify signs of disease.

Researchers at the Gazzaley Lab at the University of California, San Francisco first developed the underlying mechanics in Project:EVO for NeuroRacer, a video game that required players to steer around a track while shooting down road signs. A study found that the multitasking strains of the challenges actually improved working memory and sustained focus among the elderly — and that the cognitive gains persisted for months.

Scientists considered the results a step forward in efforts to reinvigorate aging brains, setting up guideposts for future research in the field. The study made the cover of the journal Nature, under the banner headline “Game Changer.”

UCSF lab director Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist long focused on technology’s positive and negative impacts on the brain, co-founded Akili in late 2011 to help translate his research findings into medical products.

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