In a study with Pfizer, Akili's neurocognitive assessment video game can detect biomarkers of Alzheimer's

By Heather Mack
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Boston-based Akili Interactive Labs and Pfizer have released data from a collaborative study showing the use of Akili’s digital, cognitive measurement platform can detect biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. 

The study, which began in 2014, used Akili’s screening technology called AD Screen. The program targets the brain's interference processing system and then uses an algorithm to deploy a stimulus for assessment. Akili also makes a program called Project Evo for pediatric ADHD which uses a similar process to assess conditions, but then goes a step beyond to deploy a second set of algorithms that push the user to improve.

The double-blind study recruited 100 people who used Akili’s patent-pending platform over a period of 28 days. Participants took the game home and played it daily while researchers remotely tested whether algorithms within the game could distinguish the group with amyloid deposits on their brain, which is considered to be a biomarker and risk factor for eventual development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers were able to use Akili’s platform to positively differentiate between older healthy subjects who had amyloid deposits and an age-matched comparison group of subjects who did not have amyloid deposits, both in change over time and at the completion of the study.

“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, Pfizer’s senior vice President and chief scientific officer of neuroscience said in a statement. “Alzheimer’s disease is a particularly complex disease about which we still have much to learn. These results are a step in the right direction in our mission of making a difference in the lives of Alzheimer’s patients and their families.”

Now, further analyses are underway to look at a variety of digital metrics from this study that correlate with the neurological assessment that participants received in addition to the Akili study. As a parallel protocol, all individuals were given a quantitative PET scan looking for brain amyloids as well as full neurological work-up, including MRI and neurocognitive assessment tests not related to Akili’s platform.

Akili is currently conducting multiple clinical trials across a variety of patient populations, including depression, traumatic brain injury and autism spectrum disorder (in collaboration with patient advocacy group Autism Speaks). In January, Akili CEO and cofounder Eddie Martucci told MobiHealthNews that the company predicts it could receive FDA clearance and bring products to market by the end of 2017.

The company said the Pfizer study demonstrates the potential for their technology to become a viable option to screen for cognitive conditions without the need for major neurological scans or invasive procedures.

“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,” Martucci said in a 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.”