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Roblox creator ups the game with $6.2m gift to reshape brain disorders treatments



Roblox founder and CEO David Baszucki and his wife have donated $6.2m to develop a new software platform that could revolutionise the study and treatment of brain disorders, such as dementia.

Neuroblox is a cutting-edge programme that will model brain circuits to treat a range of neurological disorders like dementia, epilepsy, ADD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

It’s developer, biomedical engineer and neuroscientist Professor Lilianne Mujica-Parody, says the platform will allow researchers to explore the complexities of brain-based disorders by providing a blueprint for individualised care.

Taking its inspiration from Roblox – the popular virtual environment and creation system that allows users to programme and play games designed by other contributors – it’s hoped the platform will open up a world of modelling possibilities for neuroscientists without training in technical computing.

A screen shot of the Neuroblox interface.

Professor Mujica-Parodi said: “Right now, there is a disconnect between the aims of clinical research and the computational tools we have to exploit that research. Neuroblox is doing something fundamentally different. It’s trying to bridge that gap.”

Mr Baszucki and his wife, the best-selling fiction writer Jan Ellison Baszucki, have been prompted to make the multi-million dollar philanthropic gift after their son Matt’s bipolar disorder was put into remission from following a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet – an area Professor Mujica-Parodi has explored in a first-of-its-kind study looking at the role of ketosis on brain functioning.

The investment from the Baszucki family includes $3.2m to help push forward with the development of the Neuroblox platform, which its backers believe could not only revolutionise mental health but shake-up the world of clinical neuroscience.

The remaining $3m will be used to create the Baszucki Endowed Chair for Metabolic Neuroscience at the Stony Brook University in New York. Professor Mujica-Parodi will be the inaugural holder of this chair, which recognises an exceptional researcher in metabolic neuroscience.

The gifts will be enhanced by an additional $550,000 from Stony Brook’s Presidential Innovation and Excellence Fund, designed specifically to accelerate the university’s highest ambitions.

Brain disorders like bipolar, Alzheimer’s dementia, and schizophrenia impact millions of families who have long struggled to find answers, including Jan and David Baszucki.

It was the couple themselves who reached out to Professor Mujica-Parodi after learning about her study exploring the role of ketosis on brain functioning.

Jan Baszucki said: “Here was a neuroscientist unveiling the mechanism by which ketones work to stabilize brain networks. This explained why a ketogenic diet gave our son his mind and his life back. We had to wonder if building on this knowledge by investing in metabolic neuroscience could be the first step toward helping others suffering from mental illnesses.”

Fuelled by enthusiasm for the potential of this project, Professor Mujica-Parodi quickly assembled a team of the brightest minds in computing, neuroscience, biomedical engineering and beyond to bring the Neuroblox vision to life.

Professor Lilianne Mujica-Parodi

She quickly realised that the potential impact of the Neuroblox platform extended far beyond bipolar disorder, however.

No longer was she creating just one solution by taking a circuit-based approach to the problem, but developing an infrastructure that could be applied to brain-based disorders more widely – including dementia, which is currently estimated to affect more than 55 million people globally.

This figure is expected to double every 20 years, with more than 80 million anticipated to be living with the progressive brain disorder by 2030.

David Baszucki said: “Lily is building a software platform where neuroscience researchers worldwide can refine, test and share models to help us understand how the brain regulates energy – a critical driver of mental health. Our family believes Neuroblox’s impact on understanding and treating brain-based disorders, including mental illness, will be transformative.”

Currently there is no clear understanding of which interventions may help with the treatment of brain disorders, whether that be lifestyle changes such as therapeutic nutritional ketosis to supplements and medication, and in what combinations and for which patients.

But it is hoped by creating a way to test possibly thousands of hypothesis in parallel, options can be eliminated through computation rather than guesswork. In short, Neuroblox would create the opportunity to forecast how the brain would respond to various interventions and at what rate over a set timescale.

American author and sixth president of Stony Brook University, Maurie McInnis, said: “Lily’s innovative approach to one of our most pressing societal issues – our mental health and well-being – is inspiring. It underscores our commitment as an institution to advance knowledge that will have a long-term, significant impact on the world,;

“We could not be prouder of these efforts, and we are thrilled that the Baszuckis have chosen to invest in Lily’s trailblazing work in a way that will undoubtedly change lives.”



Early Alzheimer’s prediction platform secures €21 million investment



PREDICTOM Dag Aarsland. Photo: Frida Moberg.
PREDICTOM's Dag Aarsland. Photo: Frida Moberg.

The project aims to identify people at risk of dementia before symptoms appear.

More than 7 million people are living with dementia in the EU. This number is projected to double, reaching 14 million by 2050.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Although the search for potential treatments is showing promise, it is anticipated that these medications will be most effective in the early stages of the disease.

The recently launched AI screening platform, PREDICTOM aims to identify individuals at risk of developing dementia, even before symptoms manifest.

The cognitive and biomarker screening platform has this week announced it will be backed by €21 million in funding, with €8 million from the EU, €9 million from industry and €4 million from UKRI.

A consortium of 30 partners from academia, business, civil society and hospitals is steering the project. The Consortium includes partners from 15 countries across Europe, Asia and America and is led by Stavanger University Hospital.

Dag Aarsland, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at King’s College London and research lead at Stavanger University Hospital, is the leading the project.

“Detecting early signs of dementia is key to slowing its progression. Unfortunately, a majority of those at risk are not identified in time. Our platform seeks to change this by enabling early discovery, allowing timely intervention and preventative treatment,” Aarsland said.

A crucial aspect of PREDICTOM is that much of the screening can be performed by the patients themselves in the comfort of their homes.

By initiating the process at home, the project aims to reduce strain on healthcare services and associated costs. Biomarkers, including saliva, stool, digital markers and blood via prick-tests, will be collected at participants’ homes or GP offices, streamlining a process traditionally carried out in hospitals or specialised clinics.

More than 4000 participants will partake in PREDICTOM’s trial project. The samples will be based on a pool of people from previous initiatives like PROTECT UK, PROTECT Norway and Radar-AD, as well as people from the catchment area of other participating centres in Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain.

“If our project succeeds, there will be significant savings in both cost and time,” Aarsland said

After the home collection, samples will be sent to PREDICTOM, where their platform will process the participant data, integrating blood, cerebrospinal fluid, imaging, electrophysiological and digital biomarkers.

AI algorithms will generate risk assessments, early diagnoses and prognoses, laying the foundation for early intervention and treatment.

This project is part of the Innovative Health Initiative (IHI), a public-private partnership (PPP) between the European Union and the European life science industries.

“We are very pleased to have such a robust team with top notch expertise spanning diverse fields, including IT, AI, medicine, ageing research and professionals from both small and large businesses,” Aarsland added.

The project runs from 1st November 2023 to 31st October 2027.

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New partnership to bring dementia-specific programmes to Washington State



Washington state dementia

The partnership will bring non-pharmacological interventions for dementia and alternatives to high-cost drugs to patients across Washington State.

A new partnership between brain health company, Together Senior Health and accountable care organisation, Rainier Health Network,

The partnership will introduce Together’s suite of dementia-specific programs, including in-home virtual interventions, to patients across Rainier Health Network in Washington state where the organisation oversees the healthcare of over 60,000 Medicare patients.

Alzheimer’s and related dementias affect more than 6.7 million Americans with 14 million projected cases by 2060. The associated healthcare costs for individuals with dementia are among the highest of any condition. Payers and providers face significant challenges in managing this expanding population.

According to a recent survey conducted by Sage Growth Partners, 77 per cent of health plans and value-based care organizations agree the need to address the growing cost of ADRD is urgent or very urgent; however, only 4 per cent have a fully-developed solution in place to support this population.

Approximately half of those surveyed also indicated a concern with the costs of Leqembi and other high-cost pharmaceuticals.

Together’s Moving Together programme offers a non-pharmacological intervention for dementia and a safe alternative to high-cost drugs that are not clinically appropriate for many dementia patients and have potential side effects.

The programme allows payers and risk-bearing healthcare organisations to more effectively manage patients. Together Senior Health says the programme results in improved engagement, reduced costs and improved health outcomes.

Recently, the company has been gaining industry traction. In addition to its partnership with Rainer Health Network, the firm is affiliated with the likes of VNS Health, VillageMD and the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Supporting our members with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias is critical,” said Dr Francis Mercado chief medical officer and board chair at Rainier Health Network.It’s a vulnerable population and Together Senior Health’s Moving Together™ solution is a proven, natural way to improve their lives and control costs.”

Together’s Moving Together™ programme is based on over ten years of clinical research in neuroscience with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Results from Together’s randomised control trial show statistically significant improvements in quality of life for individuals with cognitive decline and in caregiver ability to manage stress. The data also shows a reduction in falls and proven annual cost savings of up to $4,300 per participant per year.

Caregivers in the programme have also benefited, reporting enhanced caregiving skills.

Together is in the process of commercialising RADAR, its proprietary dementia identification and stratification algorithm. The algorithm helps payors and risk-bearing healthcare organisations identify people at highest risk for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and cognitive decline using claims data, electronic health record information and other relevant data.

“We are proud of the positive impact Together is making on the lives of those affected by dementia and are excited to partner with one of the nation’s premier ACOs to extend dementia-specific programs to its patients,” said Alissa Meade, CEO of Together Senior Health.

“Rainier Health Network, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and Together share a deep commitment to providing holistic dementia solutions that enrich the lives of participants while empowering forward-thinking, risk-bearing organizations to engage and manage this rapidly growing patient population effectively.”

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One in 25 carry genotype associated with shortened lifespan



Genotype associated with shortened lifespan found in 1 in 25.
Kari Stefansson, Patrick Sulem and Brynjar Örn Jensson scientists at deCODE genetics and authors on the paper

The study used genomic data from 58,000 Icelanders and discovered the presence of a life-shortening genotype across 4 per cent of the population.

Scientists at deCODE Genetics, a subsidiary of Amgen, have published a study on actionable genotypes detected in the Icelandic population and their association with lifespan.

The researchers determined that 1 in 25 individuals carried an actionable genotype and have, on average, a shortened lifespan.

“The identification and disclosure of actionable genotypes to participants can guide clinical decision-making, which may result in improved patient outcomes,” said Kari Stefansson, author of the paper and CEO of deCODE Genetics. “This knowledge therefore has significant potential to mitigate disease burden for individuals and society as a whole.”

The study, published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, focuses on genotypes that increase the risk of a disease for which preventive or therapeutic measures have been established. These genotypes are termed actionable genotypes.

The scientists used a population-based data set, consisting of 58,000 whole-genome sequenced Icelanders, to assess the fraction of individuals carrying actionable genotypes.

Using a list of 73 actionable genes from the guidelines from the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG), the scientists found that 4 per cent of Icelanders carry an actionable genotype in one or more of these genes. The diseases caused by these genotypes include cardiovascular, cancer and metabolic diseases.

The study assessed the relationship between actionable genotypes and the lifespan of their carriers. The largest effect was observed among carriers of cancer-predisposing genotypes, which had three years shorter median survival than non-carriers.

A pathogenic variant in BRCA2, predisposing to breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer, shortened lifespan by seven years and a variant in LDLR, which causes high levels of cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, shortened lifespan by six years.

“Our results suggest that the actionable genotypes identified in our study, which are all predicted to cause serious disease, may have a drastic effect on lifespan,” said Patrick Sulem author of the paper and scientist at deCODE Genetics.

The results showed that carriers of particular actionable genotypes were more likely to have died from the disease caused by these genotypes. Individuals with a pathogenic variant in BRCA2, have a seven-fold risk of dying from breast, ovarian or pancreatic cancer.

They are also 3.5 times more likely to develop prostate cancer and seven times more likely to die from prostate cancer than those who do not carry the variant.

The results of this study are among the factors that have motivated the government of Iceland to announce a nationwide effort in precision medicine.

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