While the world is busy finding a cure, detecting a cause, discovering a pattern in the rising numbers of Autistic people, a very different approach is taking place elsewhere. Boston based Akili Interactive Labs is building cognitive games that can aid people with ADHD and Autism.
Gaming— the hobby as well as the industry, has earned a bad repute, given the high addiction levels and a number of physiological troubles along with visual violence that it promotes! While these downsides are true, however, it is also a very effective form of mind training exercise that brain active and agile. The key reason being that a game simulates multitasking; thereby pushing the user to execute multiple decisions/actions at any given moment.
In recent time, brain-training games are found often. Many of us would be familiar with at least one of the mind-mastering games, like the 2005 Nintendo Brain Age or the some iPhone or android gaming app.
It has been known for a long time that cognitive adaptability, multi-tasking and behavior, disintegrates over time, thus leading to various geriatric disorders. Also, a lack of social/cognitive behavior is a strong symptom of Autism Spectrum Disorders.
It is directed towards these issues that Akili has come up with the idea in application and medical technology that could potentially be a game changer.
Akili Interactive Labs employs a team of neuroscientists who are stalwarts in cognitive behavior, and entertainment software creators available (they have people on board who are rumored to have been a part of the Star Wars team). The team also includes biomedical scientists along with experts in medical device commercialization and interactive design. The result is the explosive mix of medical science and technology that aim to aid patients by assessing their neural functions.
Akili is promoting the game as a ‘different type of medical product’ and professionals seems to have set high hopes on it. This is the very first time that a company is in the process of “building clinically-validated cognitive therapeutics, assessments, and diagnostics” in the form of a high quality game. Akili is calling the product Electronic Medicine™ and it marks a new way of treatment.
According to the Akili official website, this Electronic Medicine can be prescribed to individual patients and their progress can be tracked by the physicians involved, at a fraction of what traditional treatment and therapies cost. Simply put, this can revive brain functions of those who are neurologically challenged.
This is the Project: EVO, Akili’s groundbreaking technology that believes in unifying advance knowledge in neuroscience along with ‘consumer-facing technology’. The game itself is designed to challenge the user at many different levels, like “selective attention”, “working memory challenges” and “visual-motor tracking”.
The concept was developed by Dr. Adam Gazzaley in the University of California which was initially published in the magazine Nature, with the title ‘Game Changer‘ in 2013. Dr. Adam Gazzaley is also the Founding Director of UCSF Neuroscience Imaging Center. Adding to that, he is the Chief Science Adviser for Akili.
Even though Dr. Gazzaley’s research is still awaiting a patent, Akili has already started clinical trials of the product.
The product itself is a software that has the ability to track improvement and adapt to the “interference processing” which has been fitted into a consumer friendly video game format. What’s more, this software is available as an app for phones and tablets, thus making it highly accessible to almost everyone.
The interference theory, is about human memory; It generally comes to play during the ‘learning’ process and is based on how new memories and old memories interact with each other. It is believed that the old memories stay intact, however since the human brain is constantly ‘learning’ or gathering new memories, accessing old memories become challenging over time.
Akili’s Cognitive Gaming Engine has three different games that promise patient engagement and ‘remote data capture‘. The software is capable of fitting itself to the user’s level of interaction, without the help of any clinical adjustments. The data collected is more sensitive and higher in quality.
Adding to it, the video game’s interface is opportunistic in terms of capturing the individual patient’s curiosity making the initial hurdle of engaging an individual to treatment a lot easier. It has been observed, over and over again, that providing medical treatment for autism is possible only once the patient agrees to cooperate. For many with neurological disorders, understanding the help given is often abhorred or misunderstood.
Tracking the cognitive interaction for long period of time might open more opportunities for the experts to uniquely understand user/patient’s development, the direction of their progress as well as understanding them closely, than have been possible so far.
Since this product can be used at home, it might be the breakthrough, scientists all over are hoping for.
The practical utilization of this software is still being studied among people afflicted with Autism, ADHD, and depression. It might help those with Alzheimer’s as well. Currently, the company is seeking FDA approval.
Autism Related Organizations who have already endorsed Akili’s Project EVOThe fact that this might be a game changer in how we understand, study and treat Autism is established by the fact that Akili is supported by partners like Autism Speaks, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, National Institute of Mental Health and Shire Pharmaceuticals.
With Akili releasing a gaming software, we are indeed on the verge of a transition where video games transcend from being just a gaming platform to a remedial solution for the mentally challenged. In near future, it may not be too hard to imagine a world where games and apps work hand in hand with intervention therapies in order to provide a sustainable treatment for Autism
For more information check out the press release from New York Times.