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Pfizer invests in game software as Alzheimer's diagnostic tool

March 18, 2015
by Richard R. Rogoski
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Akili Interactive Labs Inc. and Pfizer Inc. have teamed up to test the validity of a cognitive video game developed by Akili to diagnose the onset of Alzheimer's disease in otherwise healthy seniors.

Akili, founded in 2011 from research conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, launched "Project EVO" as a software platform and gaming engine capable of measuring a key feature of executive functioning known as interference processing.

The game itself, which can be played on mobile phones or tablets, takes the user on a journey into four fantasy worlds for a series of timed plays and is then able to analyze the player's motor function, ability to pay attention, impulse control and reaction time — information that can be readily accessed remotely by a healthcare provider.

Pfizer will test the game as a possible biomarker that can be used to detect early signs of Alzheimer's. The company will conduct a clinical trial using elderly subjects with and without the presence of amyloid in their brains.

At the end of one-month's game play, the subjects' cognitive abilities will be assessed and compared to their baseline scores.

“This partnership is another example of Pfizer’s commitment to embracing innovative technologies that have the potential to further research into neuroscience diseases,” said Michael Ehlers, senior vice president and chief scientific officer of the Neuroscience Research Unit at Pfizer, in a press release. “A tool that enables cognitive monitoring for the selection and assessment of clinical trial patients has the potential to be an important advance in Alzheimer’s research and beyond.”