Video game developed at University of Utah to treat depression receives $ 7.5 million grant

A University of Utah lab has received a $ 7.5 million grant from the National Mental Health Institute to conduct clinical trials on Neurogrow, a video game designed to treat older people with depression.

Neurogrow invites players to care for a virtual garden with changing demands and conditions – intended to target and strengthen the circuitry at the front of the brain in older people with depression. The game is being developed by the Therapeutic Games and Apps Lab in the United States based on the research of Dr. Sarah Shizuko Morimoto, associate professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences.

The $ 7.5 million grant will fund two clinical studies – one in the United States and one at the University of Connecticut. Researchers now face a critical testing period to further assess the effectiveness of the game which will determine how it can be distributed in the future, including as a potential medical treatment.

Morimoto and his team received the grant in April and began clinical trials in August. She said receiving the grant marked “the crowning glory” of her career.

“We do the work of medicine here,” said Roger Altizer, director of digital medicine at the Center for Medical Innovation. “And it turns out it’s with software rather than pills.”

On the first try

Morimoto has spent more than a decade exploring how video games can revitalize damaged circuitry in the frontal lobe that can block the effectiveness of antidepressant drugs. She began working on the project in 2007 at the Weill Cornell Institute for Geriatric Psychiatry, headed by Dr. George Alexopoulos, a leading researcher in the field of geriatric depression.

Morimoto said the recovery mechanism in the brain that helps people overcome depression can be eroded as they get older. Known as the “atrophy of disuse hypothesis,” degradation could be thwarted by targeting and rebuilding aging circuits.

Morimoto likened the circuits of the brain to a telephone line. If the line is cut, it does not matter how strong the signal amplification is at each end of the phone call: the line must be repaired. Antidepressants can help improve a patient’s mood, but without the proper cognitive infrastructure the drug is ineffective.

“We sort of artificially come in from the outside and make you work those parts of the brain,” Morimoto said.

(Image courtesy of Sarah Shizuko Morimoto) Dr. Sarah Shizuko Morimoto has developed Neurogrow and a number of other games to help older people cope with depression.

In an initial clinical trial before Morimoto’s arrival in Utah, the game was tested against antidepressants with patients who had previously not responded to medication. Between 60% and 70% of patients said gambling offered at least some relief, Morimoto said. She conducted another clinical trial, this time testing the game against a generally stimulating computer program, and found that 60-70% of patients reported a 50% reduction in their symptoms of depression.

Morimoto approaches aging as a disease of the brain and takes a targeted approach to help people stay functional and enjoy the rest of their lives.

“I hate it when people say. “Oh, I’m rejuvenating your brain” or “We’re going to rejuvenate you again,” ”Morimoto said. “That’s not what we do at all. We strengthen your ability to use those parts of your brain that have become less useful with age.

Morimoto was conducting another clinical trial in the United States when the COVID-19 closures began in March 2020. She stopped the trial to protect her patients and applied for the grant from the National Mental Health Institute using the data obtained in that trial. test.

Typically, a prescription drug or psychotherapy treatment will be tested against a placebo and stay exactly the same throughout a clinical trial, but Morimoto knew that Neurogrow would need to be updated often to effectively treat people.

“Asking the research reviewers to accept that we say, ‘Hey, we want to test the effectiveness of this, but we’re not going to tell you exactly what this will look like in the end’ – that’s a difficult concept. to understand. falling behind, ”Morimoto said.

Morimoto wrote the grant application “from the bottom of her heart,” against the advice of some researchers she knew. In medical research, it’s common for grant providers to ask researchers to update their methodology when they first apply for funding, Morimoto said. The National Institute of Mental Health approved Morimoto’s request for the five-year grant on his first attempt.

“We got it on the first try, which was extremely exciting, and also scary,” said Morimoto.

Morimoto received the news in October 2020 and is working with the University of Connecticut to conduct the two-site trial, meaning she will not be able to oversee day-to-day operations at one site – an important test to determine effectiveness. by Neurogrow. treat patients alone.

“For me, it’s anxiety. Constant anxiety, because, you know, it’s my baby, ”Morimoto said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ogulcan Buyuksandalyaci, an entertainment arts and engineering student at the University of Utah, is developing a game in the lab on Monday, November 29, 2021. The States Lab for Games and Therapeutic Applications -Unis is working on a game that deals with elderly people who suffer from depression. The game is called Neurogrow, and the lab recently received a $ 7.5 million grant from the National Mental Health Institute.

One of the most difficult parts of implementing the program was training workers to properly explain how the game works to patients who had never touched a video game before.

The trial at the University of Connecticut is being led by Dr. David Steffens, chairman of the School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry, whom Morimoto called a world-renowned specialist in geriatric psychiatry. Morimoto met Steffens after receiving an American Academy of Geriatric Society award in 2008 while at Cornell, and he has been a mentor to her over the years.

Morimoto hopes to someday administer the game in community clinics across the country, but said she wants to make sure the game is empirically proven to help patients before it becomes available.

How the trial works

The trial in Utah is being conducted at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, although patients can also participate remotely.

It starts with a first cognitive test. Patients then undergo a six-week clinical trial where they play Neurogrow and other included games for about 30 hours over the course of four weeks.

Afterwards, patients take another cognitive test to see what, if anything, has changed. Trial administrators then make follow-up calls for the next two weeks to see how patients are doing, followed by voluntary three-month and one-year follow-up for patients who wish to be re-evaluated.

Patients who play the game at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute are treated with “nice, comfortable chairs and snacks,” Morimoto said. Those who prefer to play remotely are given a tablet with the game installed and can zoom in with admins while they play in case they have any questions.

Morimoto hopes at least 250 people will participate in the trial, but she noted that recruiting has been difficult. Any senior who suffers from depression can call 801-746-9588 to be considered for trial.

Previously, Morimoto only tested Neurogrow on patients who were taking medication to treat their depression, but this trial will also adapt to people who are not taking medication. Morimoto said his team will work with a patient’s doctor to monitor their progress and help them move forward after the trial ends.

“We really hope we have as many people as possible to give it a go,” said Morimoto. “And, you know, they really have nothing to lose. There are really no side effects other than getting a little frustrated sometimes.

Treatment is free for patients. In fact, patients are reimbursed for the time they spend playing games and taking mood assessment tests, which works out to about $ 250 for the six-week trial, Morimoto said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Roger Altizer, director of the Therapeutic Games and Apps Lab, or The GApp Lab at the University of Utah and Dr. Sarah Shizuko Morimoto, professor of health sciences at the U. , talk about the lab receiving a $ 7.5 million National Mental Health Institute grant for a video game to treat elderly people with depression.

She noted that her team is working with a language teacher to translate the game into Spanish in order to reach more potential participants. The Spanish version of the game should be ready for testing in about six months.

“I would say the majority of the apps for depression that exist don’t target the neurobiology of the disease,” Morimoto said. “They do psychotherapy on the web or give you cognitive or behavioral tools to use during your day … What we do is a little different, a whole different ball game.”

Morimoto said most universities don’t have the resources to try to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration to market a game as a medical treatment. She is grateful that the University of Utah has been “a special place” to develop Neurogrow.

Games as a medical treatment could also offer huge savings for patients and the healthcare system, Altizer said, noting that he and Morimoto believe digital medicine “is going to be the future.”

“Wouldn’t it be great if your healthcare was fun?” Said Altizer.

Source link

About Shelly Evans

Check Also

The best video game box art of 2021

The best examples of video game box art in 2021 The art of the video …