• Anna Rosická

Test your brain health, one game at a time

About forty years ago, the scientist Paul Bottomley and his team took the first localized magnetic resonance images of the human brain [1]. The new magnetic resonance imaging scanners developed by the team meant the start of a new era. Since then, brain scans have been helping clinicians and scientists to peek into other people’s heads. While we are still quite far from mind-reading, contemporary brain scans can assess brain health and diagnose various kinds of brain diseases including dementias. The problem with brain scans is that they are time-consuming and expensive, and therefore not available at all in many parts of the world. For example in some parts of Latin America, there are currently as few as one MRI scanner per country.


At Neureka, we are part of a growing initiative that aims to make brain health assessment much more accessible than that. Our team has developed the Neureka smartphone app, which is currently freely available to download all around the world. The games and questionnaires in Neureka were designed to indirectly assess brain health. Think of it as taking a brain scan with your smartphone, just a bit more fun and less noisy. After all, smartphones are already in the pockets of people all around the world, and they are becoming more and more popular even with middle-aged or older people [2], who might be especially sensitive to brain impairments.


But is an app as good as a brain scan? Can we get valid assessments from people playing games on their phones at-home? To answer this, we have teamed up with PREVENT Dementia, a large cohort study that gathers rich biological, cognitive and self-report data from 700 participants across the UK and Ireland. We are in the process of inviting PREVENT participants to download Neureka and complete the Risk Factors Challenge. We will then be able to link their data from both studies to learn if we can understand a person’s brain health using a free smartphone app. Watch this space for results from this exciting collaboration!

Many thanks to the 75 PREVENT participants who have volunteered so far. We are still looking for help! If you are a PREVENT participant and would be interested in participating in this add-on study, please reach out to your study site coordinator.

 

[1] https://doi.org/10.1148/radiology.150.2.6691099 Bottomley, P. A., Hart Jr, H. R., Edelstein, W. A., Schenck, J. F., Smith, L. S., Leue, W. M., ... & Redington, R. W. (1984). Anatomy and metabolism of the normal human brain studied by magnetic resonance at 1.5 Tesla. Radiology, 150(2), 441-446.

[2]https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/mobile/




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