Can a Mobile Game Detect Pre-Clinical Alzheimer’s Disease?

Mobile Game Detects Alzheimer’s

A new smartphone game called Sea Hero Quest (SHQ)can potentially detect preclinical Alzheimer’s disease (AD), according to a study published in PNAS. 

Designed in collaboration between the University of East Anglia (UEA), University College London (UCL) in the UK, Alzheimer’s Research UK, and German telecommunications company, Deutsche Telekom, SHQ uses spatial recognition to measure and record different parts of people’s navigational senses. SHQ, which is available on both mobile and virtual reality (VR) platforms, involves a son’s nautical journey to recover his father’s memories, which have been lost to dementia.  The game comprises sections that test for navigation, and spatial orientation, two components of cognition which slowly deteriorate in patients with AD. The number of people who have chosen to play SHQ (over 4.3 million worldwide to-date) has been advantageous to researchers, who say that just two minutes of playing SHQ equates to five hours of lab-based study, thus providing information that can be used to detect AD in its incipient stages. 

“Research shows us that the brain changes associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s begin decades before symptoms like memory loss start,” said Hilary Evans, chief executive at Alzheimer’s Research United Kingdom. “For future Alzheimer’s treatments to be effective, it’s likely they must be given at the earliest stages of disease, before there’s too much damage to the brain.” 

In this study, researchers aggregated big data from (n=27,108) people from the UK (aged 50 to 75) who played the SHQ game to distinguish whether special navigation information can be used as a benchmark to identify people at high risk for developing preclinical AD They also enlisted 60 participants to undergo genetic testing for APOE, a gene known to increase the likelihood of AD onset. 

Stepping Stone for AD Diagnosis 

According to the findings of this study, using big-data spatial navigation benchmarks from SQH, researchers were able to discern between individuals at high-risk for developing preclinical AD versus those at low-riskThe genetic testing identified 31 participants in the lab testing cohort who possessed the APOE4 gene, which is presented in approximately 10-15% of people, and amplifies the risk of developing early onset AD (before the age of 65)The results suggest those with APOE4 who played SQH “took less efficient routes to checkpoint goals” and “performed worse on spatial navigation tasks,” said Prof. Michael Hornberger from the UEA, and lead researcher of this study. “This is really important because these are people with no memory problems.” 

These findings, which can potentially have important implications in AD detection further highlights that the global Sea Hero Quest database can be employed as a normative benchmark dataset to efficiently determine the significance of spatial abnormality suspected to be indicative of incipient AD on an individual level,” the authors continued, which will thereby provide “the steppingstone for individualized diagnostics and outcome measures of cognitive symptoms in preclinical AD.” 

Source: PNASMedical News Today