Akili Interactive Labs Inc. of Boston
Games to Sharpen the Brain
July 31, 2012
Start-Ups Seek FDA Approval for Videogames as Treatment for ADHD
Akili Interactive Labs Inc. of Boston, formed by start-up-creating firm PureTech Ventures, and San Francisco company Brain Plasticity Inc. are seeking Food and Drug Administration approval for a videogame treatment they hope clinicians will turn to before prescribing medicines for ADHD.
The disorder, whose symptoms include difficulty paying attention and remaining focused, affects 9% of adolescents and 4.1% of adults in the U.S., according to the American Psychiatric Association.
The companies are building on research suggesting that action videogames can sharpen players’ ability to concentrate, and may have other medical or health benefits.
University of Toronto scientists said in April that action videogame play causes improvement in “visual attention,” which is needed to drive a car or track changes on a computer display.
In 2010, University of Rochester and University of Minnesota researchers found that action videogames can train people to make the right decisions faster.
The FDA has never approved a videogame as a medical therapy.
Akili co-founder Dr. Eddie Martucci
the work of Daphne Bavelier of the University of Rochester and Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco
Dr. Bavelier had found that players of fast-paced, action videogames outperform non-gamers in their visual-attention skills, or the ability to concentrate visually on an object while ignoring irrelevant information. Visual attention is important for things like driving or picking a friend’s face out of a crowd.
With research increasingly suggesting that neurological benefits are a byproduct of recreational, action-game play, PureTech teamed up with Dr. Bavelier and Dr. Gazzaley to design videogames that stimulate parts of the brain in ways that could be medically useful. With Dr. Bavelier’s and Dr. Gazzaley’s guidance, and advice from videogame experts like Noah Falstein, formerly of videogame publisher LucasArts Entertainment Co., PureTech launched Akili in December.
neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to rewire itself in response to learning or new experiences.
Brain Plasticity has launched clinical tests of computer-based exercises to treat schizophrenia and ADHD, said Dr. Henry Mahncke, chief operating officer of Brain Plasticity and chief executive of San Francisco-based Posit Science Corp.
A study of 3,034 children and adolescents in Singapore, published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture, found videogame play to be associated with greater attention problems.
Noting Dr. Bavelier’s and Dr. Green’s research, the authors speculate that electronic media might improve visual attention but impair the ability to sustain attention on a hard or boring task.
The latter type is what teachers need from students, according to co-author Douglas A. Gentile, a developmental psychologist at Iowa State University.
“The biggest problem is that we use the word ‘attention’ to mean many different things,” Dr. Gentile wrote in an email. “Could games be designed to improve the kinds of attention that teachers need? I expect so, but given that games usually train the other types, it becomes a great design challenge.”