Akili, Pfizer successfully gamify Alzheimer's

Akili Interactive Labs is developing video game-based treatments and assessments for a range of conditions, including Alzheimer's, ADHD and depression. Image: Akili

Back in 2014, Pfizer teamed up with Akili Interactive Labs to see if a video game could really detect early signs of Alzheimer’s. Now, the pair is presenting data showing that Akili’s tech can differentiate between patients with and without brain amyloidosis, and could lay the foundation for a noninvasive way to detect amyloid deposits in the brain.

Boston-based Akili is working on cognitive assessments and treatments that are delivered through its proprietary video game platform. The tech marries adaptive algorithms developed at Akili with cognitive science in-licensed from Dr. Adam Gazzaley’s lab at UC San Francisco, and targets the brain’s ability to process multiple streams of information. In addition to Alzheimer’s, the company is testing how its approach could be applied to depression, autism, traumatic brain injury and ADHD.

The partnership between Akili and Pfizer sought to discover a correlation between Akili’s “digital biomarkers” and one or more of the accepted neurological markers for asymptomatic Alzheimer’s diseases, Akil said in a statement.


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Patients accepted into the double-blind study underwent a PET scan to determine whether they had amyloid in their brains, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. They also received a neurological work-up, including MRI and “non-Akili cognitive endpoints,” including measures of memory and attention. Akili’s tech, delivered as a fast-paced action video game on a tablet, was able to differentiate between healthy subjects with amyloid deposits in their brain and age-matched subjects without amyloid.

Image: HealthGrove by Graphiq
“These initial results suggest that our digital biomarkers may have the potential to serve as non-invasive options to screening procedures such as PET imaging scans requiring the administration of radioactive ligands or lumbar punctures,” said Akili CEO Eddie Martucci in the statement. “We’re also excited by the potential for early detection of neurological dysfunction, and we’re looking forward to further exploring that potential on our own and with strategic partners.”

Akili has embarked on a number of partnerships. It has worked with Shire Pharmaceuticals to structure and launch a clinical study of its Project:EVO video game platform in pediatric ADHD and has teamed with Autism Speaks to trial the technology with children with autism and co-occurring attention deficits.

As for the platform’s applications in Alzheimer’s, analyses of digital metrics from the study that correlate with PET, MRI and other patient data are ongoing.

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