I first heard about Posit Science when I was walking to work (through the rain) to my previous job. Mike Merzenich – my Ph.D. advisor, the person who discovered adult brain plasticity, and general neuroscience genius—called me and said he was founding Posit Science to bring brain plasticity out of the lab and into the world. He told me that we were going to first build a set of plasticity-based brain training exercises that could help ordinary people think faster, focus better, and remember more. And then next, we were going to show that this approach could help all kinds of people with clinically significant cognitive problems. That sounded pretty good to me, so I signed up!
And today, another important piece of Mike’s long-term vision came into place.
Researchers from the NYU School of Medicine (led by Drs Leigh Charvet and Lauren Krupp) published a study in PLoS Neurology showing the brain training exercises (now found in BrainHQ) significantly improve cognitive function in people with Multiple Sclerosis.
They enrolled 135 people with MS into the study, and randomly assigned half to do brain training exercises from Posit Science, and the other half to do ordinary computer games. They measured cognitive function before and after 12 weeks of training, and showed a significantly larger improvement in the group doing brain training exercises—even though people using the computer games ended up training for more hours (about 57 hours) than the brain training group (who did about 38 hours of training). In addition, 56.7% of the patients in the brain training group reported that their cognitive function had improved – compared to only 31% in the computer games group.
This is an exciting result for two reasons:
First, cognitive function is a big unmet medical problem in people with MS. Up to 70% of people living with MS report that their cognitive function is worse than it was before they were diagnosed with the disease. Scientists are learning more and more about the ways that MS affects the brain that cause cognitive impairment—but that work has not yet yielded a new drug treatment that can help. Several drugs have been tried – but none have yet been shown to effective.
The result from Drs. Charvet and Krupp is the first to directly demonstrate in a large, well controlled trial, that a specific brain training approach improves both objectively measured cognitive function, and people’s own sense of their cognitive function – put another way, that the improvement is real, and people notice the difference in the lives.
Second, the study makes a strong argument that health care professionals should think about digital therapeutics—including brain training—as a kind of medicine, that should be used in an evidence-based way to treat specific clinical conditions in the same way that drugs or physical medical devices are used. I think that the future for virtually every neurological and psychiatric disorder will involve a combinations of molecular therapies (drugs), device therapies (brain imaging and brain stimulation), and digital therapies – including brain training (from Posit Science, of course).
It’s exciting to me to see Mike Merzenich’s vision of scientifically-based, clinically validated brain training come into reality! Between recent work showing that brain training in healthy older adults reduces the risk of going on to dementia, to studies in chemobrain, HIV-associated neurocognitive impairment, and Parkinson’s disease, we’re seeing that we can put brain plasticity to work—changing the structure, function, and chemistry of the brain—and help all kinds of people.
But as Mike would tell me—we still have a lot to do—and we need to go faster! Thanks for coming along on this journey.