New software could change the way we assess and treat ADHD

The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and IntelliGym Therapeutics have teamed up to turn a breakthrough sports training videogame into a fun and interactive assessment and treatment platform for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The IntelliGym® technology – which was originally designed for the military and is now used by thousands of athletes and air force pilots worldwide – builds skills such as awareness, decision-making and long-term concentration, and is proven to enhance cognitive performance by more than 30 per cent.

“ADHD affects about one in 20 school-aged kids by interfering with their ability to regulate activity, behavior and attention,” says Russell Schachar, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and senior scientist in Psychiatry and Neurosciences & Mental Health at SickKids. “Many children with ADHD have difficulty learning and interacting with their family and peers, and these problems often persist into adolescence and adulthood.  The result is a snowball effect on development that can seriously limit a person’s ability to succeed.  Finding a fun and convenient way to improve attention early in life could have huge public health implications.”

The SickKids-IntelliGym Therapeutics collaboration is one of 14 projects co-ordinated by the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) and funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) that brings together researchers and industry as part of a new neuroscience cluster. The cluster involves organizations from across southern Ontario, which are sharing their local infrastructure, expertise and knowledge to enable better use of research resources and accelerate discovery. Learn more about the Ontario neuroscience cluster.

Altogether, 28 partners – including 12 not-for-profit organizations and 16 private sector companies – are joining forces to tackle the development of innovative brain training applications, brain-device interfaces and brain imaging technologies that will advance and improve neurological disease diagnosis, intervention and treatment. Learn about our other NeuroTech Ontario projects.

“We’re bringing together public sector expertise in brain science with private sector resources to get important neurotechnologies to the market faster,” says Shiva Amiri, senior program lead for OBI. “These partnerships will lead to globally competitive products that have the potential to not only greatly improve the health of Ontarians, but create new jobs and economic growth that supports ongoing research and development.”

In this case, SickKids is offering its collective and considerable expertise in what makes kids with ADHD tick to help private sector programmers build important assessment and treatment tools into their proprietary software, and develop a “skin” – or look and feel – for the game that will motivate children to participate.

IntelliGym Therapeutics will work alongside SickKids to develop the game.  It is led by CEO Neil Closner, an experienced health-care executive and entrepreneur.

“This is exactly the type of public-private partnership we like to see,” says Closner.  “Customizing the IntelliGym® technology could have a massive health benefit for children around the world.  But the development costs are beyond what a typical Canadian granting agency is able to support.  Bringing together public and private resources means we can develop an effective and affordable product that will be sure to hit the shelves soon.”

The team hopes the final product will work as a stand-alone or supplementary treatment for ADHD, to be recommended by psychologists and used to assess and address patients’ specific needs.  The software will also offer customized reporting capabilities that cater to the different needs of physicians, caregivers and teachers, and will help enhance personalized therapies, interactions and teaching methods for each child.

“We need to get more in tune with the global agenda,” says Schachar.  “That means encouraging more commercially savvy scientists to connect with more research savvy business partners. That’s the opportunity we’ve been given here.  It’s the start of something big for Ontario.”

OBI is seeking ongoing partnership and support for the Ontario neuroscience cluster. Learn more.

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