In June, the FDA approved the prescribing of the videogame EndeavourRX for children ages 8-12 who had been diagnosed with ADHD. It has been a long road for the game developers, who started clinical trials seven years ago.
The trials show encouraging results with one-third of the children studied having their ADHD symptoms largely reversed after playing the game for twenty-five minutes a day, five days a week, for a month. This novel approach is exciting and without the complex side effects and expense that come with long term medication.
ADHD focused ‘EndeavourRX’ is just one of the games being developed by California based company Akili — working alongside the University of California’s Neuroscape lab. Autism, depression, and Alzheimer’s all represent other therapeutic targets in their sights. This ‘digital medicine’ approach is still very controversial and yet the success of EndeavourRX shows the ideas hold up in phase three clinical trials. The scientific community would be remiss in ignoring such robust evidence.
Perhaps the most exciting avenue for this field is its potential to treat depression, currently the worlds second-largest contributor to global disability. There has been a persistent, industry-wide failure to treat the underlying cause of the condition, instead, work has focused purely on the management of symptoms.
Not only must new interventions treat the causes of depression, but they must also be easy to deliver to the public on a large scale. A videogame developed by EVO was shown in a small trial to alleviate symptoms of depression and affect cognitive control — specifically in the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for personality expression and social behaviour.
Its appeal is considerable, it is easy to use, portable and without any of the side effects of traditional pharmacological interventions. In fact, it was so easy to use that the study had a far higher retention of participants than anticipated.
This utterly novel form of treatment at first seems slightly absurd, and yet all meaningful changes in the brain occur through learned experience, video games are an obvious and simple way to provide an individual with these tailored experiences, without causing any discomfort or having any requirements of them physically. In developed countries, almost everybody has access to a smartphone, computer or tablet. Meaning the barriers to access and adherence to this medication are almost negligible. Given the success of EndeavourRX, there will likely be a dramatic increase In investment and interest in the area.
One day we may go and see a doctor (most likely via video call given the recent rise of telehealth) and conclude the appointment with access to a new app, instead of a prescription for a bottle of pills.