Sci­en­tists un­veil vir­tual re­al­ity game to de­tect Alzheimer’s

Business World - - TECHNOLOGY -

LON­DON — Sea Quest Hero is more than just the usual com­puter game in which play­ers find their way through mazes, shoot and chase crea­tures — it also dou­bles as sci­en­tists’ lat­est tool for study­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

The game — down­load­able from Aug. 30 in its vir­tual re­al­ity ver­sion — seeks to stim­u­late play­ers’ brains through a se­ries of tasks based on mem­ory and ori­en­ta­tion skills, while gath­er­ing data to research de­men­tia.

One of the first symp­toms of Alzheimer’s is loss of nav­i­ga­tional skills. But data com­par­ing cog­ni­tive re­sponse across a broad spec­trum of ages is rare, and this is what the game seeks to pro­vide.

The game — billed as the “largest de­men­tia study in his­tory” — has been de­vel­oped by Deutsche Telekom, Alzheimer’s Research UK and sci­en­tists from Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don and the Univer­sity of East Anglia.

The mo­bile ver­sion, which came out in 2016, has al­ready been down­loaded three mil­lion times in 193 coun­tries.

Play­ing the game for just two min­utes, the web­site said, gen­er­ates the same amount of data sci­en­tists would take five hours to col­lect in sim­i­lar lab-based research.

With the equiv­a­lent of 63 years al­ready played, sci­en­tists now have some 9,500 years worth of de­men­tia research to go through.

“That gave us an enor­mous amount of in­for­ma­tion and it re­ally al­lowed us to un­der­stand how men and women of dif­fer­ent ages nav­i­gate in the game,” David Reynolds, chief sci­en­tific of­fi­cer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, told AFP.

Re­solv­ing the tasks re­quires the use of “dif­fer­ent parts of your brain and dif­fer­ent parts of your brain are used in dif­fer­ent ways by dif­fer­ent types of de­men­tia — so it al­lows us to link what some­one can do to what is go­ing on in their brain,” Reynolds added.


The ad­di­tion of vir­tual re­al­ity will pro­vide yet an­other layer of data.

“The head­set tech­nol­ogy is help­ing to track where the per­son is look­ing at all times as well as where they’re go­ing,” Lau­ren Presser, one of the game’s pro­duc­ers, told AFP.

Nearly 50 mil­lion peo­ple around the world suf­fer from de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s ac­cord­ing to the lat­est es­ti­mates. This fig­ure could bal­loon to 132 mil­lion by 2050.

Game’s cre­ators hope it could even­tu­ally en­able di­ag­no­sis and treat­ments of pa­tients far ear­lier than is cur­rently pos­si­ble.

“We know keep­ing your brain fit and ac­tive, like keep­ing your body fit and ac­tive, is good and is help­ing to re­duce your risk of de­men­tia or slow­ing its pro­gres­sion down if you have it,” he said. —

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