Wyss team and Lumosity announce partnership to study memory and reaction speed traits
Boston, Massachusetts. The Wyss Institute and Harvard Personal Genome Project (PGP), announced their research partnership with Lumos Labs in an effort to study genomes correlated with extraordinary brain phenotypes. The Harvard PGP is an open science research project stemming from PersonalGenomes.org initiative founded in 2005 by George Church, PhD, Professor at Harvard and MIT and founding member of the Wyss Institute. It aims to collect genetic, environmental and trait data from consenting participants and make them publicly available to researchers in order to comprehensively study human health and disease. Lumos Labs are the creators of the online brain training games marketed by the public company Lumosity, which launched in 2007 and has an extensive world membership numbering upwards of 70,000,000 participants.
Lead researchers Rigel Chan, PhD and Elaine Lim, PhD, both members of the Church lab and Wyss Institute, were interested in studying the genes and molecular mechanisms involved in memory and reaction speed. Understanding why some extraordinary individuals have extremely good memory and reaction speed can help us understand more about brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Their ongoing work focuses on studying “miniature brain models” or brain organoids, and how they differ between healthy individuals and patients. “This is an attempt to get people who have interesting memory and reaction speed traits and engage them in the PGP” says Church. Previous work using genome wide associated studies (GWAS) on large cohorts of healthy individuals and patients have not been very successful in identifying key genes and biological mechanisms responsible for enhanced memory and reaction speed, and Church thinks a paradigm shift is needed: “We need to connect the dots between organ and trait. What we want is something testable; we need to see emergent behavior at the molecular and organ level”. The PGP has the established infrastructure for enrolling participants in these studies, but Chan and Lim were looking to team up with the right partner. “We wanted a set of online assessments that can be fun and easily accessible to the participants, and Lumosity provided the right combination of games that are fun yet challenging” said Chan. Lumos Labs are also interested in the scientific development and assessment of their platform and frequently collaborate and publish findings of their research partnerships in peer-reviewed journals.
The participants are asked to complete six tests aimed to assess their memory, attention and recall speed. These games include recollecting a series of blinking objects, associating symbols with digits, recognizing objects seen before versus novel items, reaction speed to an object seen before and counting simple colored geometric shapes appearing in succession. The scientists will analyze participant scores and identify high performers. “What we are measuring is memory and reaction speed because of interesting disease relevance to disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease” said Lim. Individuals resilient for these traits are highly encouraged to sign up. “We are using the Lumosity games because of the broader outreach to everyone, and not just a small elite group” as she explained their team’s preference for games over other assessments such as survey forms or standardized admission tests.
How To Enroll
The PGP registry has over 5000 people who have already consented to make their data, genomes and biomaterials publicly available, and who are eligible for the PGP-Lumosity collaboration and other third-party research studies. Enrollment in the PGP is open to anyone who is a citizen or resident of the United States, at least 18 years of age and consents to sharing genetic, health and trait data in a public manner, in line with the open-science philosophy of the program. After signing up with the PGP, anyone can participate in the PGP-Lumosity research study, and the study will require some basic information such as age and gender, which are needed for analyzing the scores obtained. The participants are kept anonymous and only aggregate summary results will be published from the PGP-Lumosity study. However, participants have the option of sharing personal information such as their Lumosity scores back to the PGP. PGP participants are also free to opt out of the program at any time and eschew future contact about the collection of personal information and biological material.
The researchers emphasize that enrollment in these studies stems from other reasons beyond the argument on the beneficence to society, such as curiosity, benefits to immediate family members or downsides and disadvantages that can be realized early. This open platform can also excite and embolden PGP members to be directly involved with the science and scientists of the PGP and their collaborators. “If you are exceptional in any way, you have an obligation to share it not hoard it” concluded Church.
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