Institute News

Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Translational Research Holds Symposium“Games as The Brain Disease Therapy”

In Mid-May, The Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute (TCCI) for Translational Research in Shanghai hosted a symposium, titled “Games as Brain Disease Therapy.” Prominent specialists from the US and China presented their latest findings. This pioneering, cross-disciplinary research symposium in China attracted the attendance and attention of over a hundred experts from the gaming and medical industries as well as some mainstream media.

TCCI invited Professor Adam Gazzaley, Director of the Department of Neurology, Physiology and Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, to be the keynote speaker at the symposium. Known as the first person to use games to cure brain diseases, Gazzaley developed a racing game to improve the cognitive ability and memory of seniors over a decade ago; results have shown it to be remarkably effective. He later developed a game that could increase children’s concentration and serve as adjunct therapy for hyperactivity disorder. Gazzaley’s game is now undergoing FDA approvals and is expected to become the world’s first FDA-approved therapeutic game for brain diseases. A variety of other games are currently being developed for children, youths and seniors, including mobile games, virtual reality games, and motion-capture games. It is hoped these games will have a positive impact to the treatment of various mental and neurodegenerative diseases, such as depression, anxiety and Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Gazzaley, the concept of a “digital drug” is being increasingly accepted in the US. An example are games that are designed to focus on introducing a more individualized and precise treatment for each patient that forms a closed loop. When the player is in the game, the game constantly monitors the brain activity of the player by capturing brain signals through scalp and recording eye movement. The software feeds this information back into the game, which adjusts the difficulty and progress of the game to make treatment more effective.

Gazzaley has also pointed out that he does not believe games alone will be able to fully cure any brain disease yet, but it is a helpful adjunct therapy that could help patients reduce their reliance on medication and therefore lower drug side effects. He chose to send a game that treats children’s hyperactivity for FDA approval because this disease has very few effective drugs and those that are effective have strong side effects and are potentially harmful for those with developing brains. His hope is that the game as adjunct treatment might help kids reduce the drug dosage and related side effects while not compromising therapeutic effects.

Huang Yanyan, Deputy Director of Geriatrics Department at Huashan Hospital, researcher and project leader at TCCI for Translational Research, presented an independently developed VR game for the assessment and adjunct treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. She designed multiple scenes such as supermarkets and classrooms, where senior players would look for objects, purchase items, train their memories and sense of space in virtual environments. The backend would record their performance and conduct a comprehensive analysis as an important and objective indicator of cognitive assessment. Research with this game has now completed its first phase and nearly a hundred experiments have been conducted within various communities in Shanghai. They have achieved good results and received a lot of attention from the public and the industry.

According to Mao Ying, Vice President of Huashan Hospital and Director of TCCI for Translational Research, the use of games and other new technologies to treat brain diseases is a groundbreaking interdisciplinary research field and it is also a key area of focus for TCCI. Therapeutic VR games for the Alzheimer’s disease is the first original research project that TCCI funded in China, and is currently at its second phase of research. Meanwhile, TCCI for Translational Research is actively highlighting the latest international research projects such as Professor Gazzaley’s projects, and it is working closely with industrial partners such as gaming companies to develop Chinese versions of these games that will eventually benefit Chinese patients.

Project leaders from nearly 20 leading Chinese game companies who attended the symposium expressed strong interest in this field. Many of them immediately stated their desire to join the efforts and carry out related research. Reporters from five major media outlets, including Xinhua News Agency and Xinmin Evening News conducted interviews at the scene and later released in-depth reports.