Clarksburg nonprofit works to make brain science smarter -- Gazette.Net


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Wondering how healthy your brain is? A Clarksburg-based health organization has some apps for that.

The American Health Assistance Foundation, which has been based in Maryland since it formed in 1973, and is now located in Clarksburg, was part of “The 21st Century Brain Trust,” a coalition of four organizations which recently won $100,000 for their proposal to create a better way to measure brain health.

The Brain Trust wants to create parameters so that software developers can create better apps, and are testing some existing apps themselves, to make sure they are “fully integrated with the needs of the research community,” according to Guy Eakin, AHAF’s vice president of scientific affairs.

The idea is that patients can in some sense be their own citizen scientists and contribute their own information by doing things like taking online tests to measure their cognitive health over a period of time, he said.

“We’re pushing a field of science around these apps,” Eakin said. ” We don’t have anything at home to test cognitive health — that’s something we need to change.”

By tracking personal cognitive health, patients will be better informed and engaged when talking to their physicians, he said. Mobile apps also would provide benefits in research studies and trials, he said, which often spend enormous amounts of money just screening people and finding appropriate research subjects.

The apps could help patients opt into studies faster or help screen out other subjects more quickly and effectively, he said.

Some apps already exist, he said, naming among others, ones called Ginger.io, Cogstate and Brain Baseline.

“We’re trying to help the entire field of app developers,” he said, by finding out what are key features for apps to effectively measure cognitive function.

The 21st Century Brain Trust was the runner-up in the Collaborate - Activate Innovation Challenge, a competition sponsored by Sanofi, a global health care company. The competition’s goal was to develop programs that promote patient engagement in their health.

The four organizations — the Geoffrey Beene Gives Back Alzheimer’s Initiative, the USAgainstAlzheimer’s Network, and the Cleveland Clinic/Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, all were aware of each other, he said, “but we hadn’t really found a project we could all work on together.”

When they heard about the Sanofi challenge, “we said ‘we’re in.’”

The 21st Century Brain Trust was one of the four finalists from more than 100 entries, Eakin said, and the runner-up in the overall competition.

“So that was greatly bolstering,” he said.

It is just one component of the organization’s fight against Alzheimer’s, Eakins said. AHAF has awarded $120 million to 1,010 research grants for age-related, degenerative diseases, he told The Gazette, as well as working to educate the public about age-related diseases.

The 21st Century Trust’s project, Eakin said, is to approach the issue of cognitive health when people are healthy.

“The results from very large pharmaceutical drug trials — the place where people saw benefits — was in the earliest point of the disease’s progression,” he said. “It seems very clear. ... If we’re going to be treating Alzheimer’s, we need to be catching it early.”

sjbsmith@gazette.net