(SAN FRANCISCO) — Posit Science, the maker of BrainHQ computerized brain exercises, has been awarded a federal grant to measure the impact of BrainHQ training on the production of the brain chemical acetylcholine. The newly-funded research could confirm a neurochemical explanation of why BrainHQ exercises have driven benefits in brain health and performance in more than 100 studies, across varied populations. It also could have big implications in the battle against age-related cognitive decline, dementia, and many other cognitive disorders.
The Small Business Investment Research grant from the National Institute on Aging will advance preliminary research first announced in the summer of 2018 at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference by researchers at McGill University in Montreal.
Those researchers did a preliminary study which showed — for the first time ever in humans — that a particular type of brain exercise can increase the ongoing production of acetylcholine.
Human brains naturally produce acetylcholine at the moments when people need to attend to information, and production of the chemical is critical to memory and learning. Typically, the production of acetylcholine decreases with aging, and is more dramatically decreased in people with age-related cognitive decline, dementia, and many other cognitive disorders.
The most commonly-used drugs to combat early stage Alzheimer’s are cholinesterase inhibitors (e.g., Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne). These drugs decrease the rate at which the brain breaks down acetylcholine, which leads to higher residual levels of acetylcholine in the brain, but do not cause higher levels of acetylcholine production. This strategy has been shown to mildly slow the decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but typically the benefits are not sustained over time.
“This line of research came from studies in rodents, where we showed that brain exercises could reverse the downward spiral caused by aging across multiple measures of brain health,” said Dr. Michael Merzenich the Chief Scientific Officer of Posit Science and Kavli Laureate in Neuroscience. “This new grant funding from the NIA allows us to confirm and extend the observations from a preliminary study in humans showing that the right type of brain training could lead to stronger production of acetylcholine, even in a resting state — when participants are not engaged in the exercise. By demonstrating that the neuro-modulatory system can be improved through brain training, such research could lead to significant advances for the treatment of dementia and other neurological disorders.”
BrainHQ exercises and assessments have shown benefits in more than 100 peer-reviewed studies, including gains in standard measures of cognitive performance (e.g., speed, attention, memory, executive function), in standard measures of quality of life (e.g., mood, confidence, health-related quality of life, Instrumental Activities of Daily Living), and in real-world activities (e.g., gait/balance, driving, hearing, workplace activities).