A US laboratory is developing video games that could help treat a range of health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. Akili Interactive Labs currently makes two games designed to treat ADHD and depression, both of which are currently undergoing clinical trials. The project was co-founded with PureTech Health which is listed on the London Stock Exchange (PRTC).
The ADHD game is called ‘Project: Evo’ and takes players on a journey through a futuristic-looking world where they select certain objects whilst ignoring others. Akili says the game trains the part of the brain that processes the endless snippets of information which we absorb every second.
Chief Executive of PureTech and Akili board member Daphne Zohar explains: “We’re trying to find new ways to tackle the problem of cognition, which cuts across many different chronic diseases. It’s something we want to be able to measure and also intervene on.”
Early tests using the game have demonstrated an improvement in cognition for children who have ADHD. Unlike a video game that you can simply buy off the shelf, Akili is seeking the approval of the FDA so that Project: Evo can be licensed as a therapy. If successful, the game could be prescribed by doctors as a treatment for ADHD. While other companies – FTSE 100 listed Pearson for example – have developed games designed to increase memory capacity and improve attention span, these have not tried to gain regulatory approval for their products.
Akili have also developed another fast-paced action video game designed to be used on a tablet which they hope will enable screening and diagnosing the early signs of Alzheimer’s. Early tests show that the game is capable of detecting a statistically significant difference between subjects with and without brain amyloidosis, the primary biomarker for Alzheimer’s risk.
Co-founder Matt Omernick has an impressive track record in the video games industry. He spent eight years working on games such as The Force Unleashed for Lucasfilm, the studio known for the Star Wars franchise.
Video games are just one example of how technology could be used to treat dementia. Virtual reality headsets are already been used to help dementia sufferers in care homes. The headsets allow the person to escape to a more relaxing or nostalgic place. There are also apps that can be downloaded to a smartphone which help the user exercise the brain. With the pharmaceutical industry struggling to find effective drugs to treat the condition, making advances in technology have become a necessity.
A large-scale trial by US pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly of solanezumab last year failed to deliver the results that were expected – a huge blow to many who had high hopes for the treatment.
With big pharma failing to produce an effective treatment, technology companies are stepping in to develop alternative approaches. This has attractive huge investment – Akili has already benefited from multimillion-dollar backing from Pfizer, an American drugs giant, and its rival Shire, a FTSE 100 company.
Around 47 million people across the globe suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, which costs the British economy alone around £26 billion each year. Few treatments exist to alleviate the symptoms and there is no cure. Although the elderly are most at risk for dementia, the disease can affect anyone at any time and progression can be rapid. We advise clients to ensure they have a Lasting Power of Attorney in place which nominates someone they trust to manage their affairs and make decisions for them, should they lose mental capacity. Get in touch with our Later Life Planning team to find out more: