Published on: December 23, 2016
by Stephanie Baum for MedCity News:
Despite the disappointments in the quest to develop an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, there has been a great deal of interest in developing noninvasive screening tests that can spot patients with the disease in its early stages when drugs would be most effective in treating the condition.
Two years after forming a strategic collaboration, a double blind study by Akili Interactive Labs and Pfizer offered some encouraging findings for using a video game a screening tool to spot early signs of cognitive decline when patients are pre-symptomatic, according to a news release.
Akili Interactive Labs developed a video game platform, as a cognitive assessment tool. The AD Screen involves navigating a character on a platform around a series of obstacles. The idea is that this approach is less invasive than the current practice of using lumbar punctures and PET scans to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and could reduce the need to prescribe them. Also, seniors might be more likely to subject themselves to a cognitive assessment if they can do that with a noninvasive test from the comfort of their own homes.
The clinical trial to assess the correlation between Akili’s digital biomarkers, obtained from its mobile medical video game interface and the primary biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease risk — brain amyloidosis (in otherwise healthy, asymptomatic subjects) detected “a statistically significant difference” between subjects with and without brain amyloids, the news release said.
“We wanted to see if digital measures could serve as a proxy for more invasive biomarker detection,” Akili CEO and Cofounder Eddie Martucci said in a phone interview with MedCity News.
The topline results of the study were made at the International Conference on Clinical Trials for Alzheimer’s Disease in San Diego today.
“We are encouraged by the results of this trial, and we look forward to exploring ways that we might be able to implement innovative new technologies like the Akili platform into the clinical trial process,” Ole Isacson, Chief Scientific Officer, Neuroscience at Pfizer, said in a statement.
The double-blind study of 54 participants was conducted as a parallel protocol —individuals were accepted into the study if screening criteria judged them to be healthy. The study assessed healthy participants who tested positive for amyloid deposits in their brains and an age-matched comparison group of amyloid-negative subjects, the news release said.
Individuals were given a quantitative PET scan to determine brain amyloid presence. All participants received “a full neurological workup” which included an MRI and assessments measuring memory and attention, the news release said.
The video game’s underlying platform was developed at the University of California at San Francisco in the labs of Dr. Adam Gazzaley. The platform combines an algorithm with visual mechanics to generate a baseline for each user. The game is designed to automatically adjust to the player’s functional level, whether they are a 70-year-old with a cognitive impairment or a 10-year-old with ADHD.
Martucci added that Akili planned to do further clinical validation of the cognitive assessment technology. He acknowledged that digital cognitive assessment is a hot space and that reflects a major need for improving the way we measure cognitive decline to catch signs earlier.
Akili, which was cofounded by PureTech Health, developed a commercial infrastructure for its digital medicine applications. In addition to Alzheimer’s disease, other applications in development for the platform include pediatric attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder (in strategic collaboration with Autism Speaks), depression, and traumatic brain injury.
Photo: Akili Interactive Lab’s ADHD treatment product Project: EVO is similar to the company’s Alzheimer’s disease screening tool but with distinct algorithms and sensory stimulus.
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