New gaming technology in early detection of brain injury

Technology aims to support non-verbal assessment

A new University College Cork (UCC) spin out company is to focus on harnessing the power of gaming technology for the early detection of infant brain injury.

Dr Deirdre Murray Department of Paediatrics & Child Health & Cork University Hospital. Neonatal Research Group, CUMH.
Photo: Tomas Tyner, UCC.

The team involved aim to create a sea-change in the assessment of brain development in young children.

The company launched today is the direct result of an ongoing collaboration between the maternal and child health research centre, the INFANT centre, and global gaming company, Hello Games.

Since 2014, Prof. Deirdre Murray, Professor of Paediatrics in UCC, and principal investigator with the INFANT Research Centre, UCC, and her brother Sean Murray, Founder and Managing Director of Hello Games, have worked together to study the ability of young infants to interact with touchscreen technology.

“Children’s brains grow and develop rapidly in the first few years of life. Their ability to learn about the world around them and to quickly solve problems and learn new skills is fascinating to watch, but up to now has been difficult to measure,” said Prof. Murray.

“Most of our tests depend on the use of language to explain and to observe a child’s responses across a number of tests. If a child speaks a different language, or has no language at all, they are very difficult to assess.”

She said this new technology could be deployed on a tablet interface or similar screen, without verbal instruction and would accurately assess a child’s ability to problem solve and complete complex tasks in just 15 to 20 minutes.

“This means that children with learning difficulties who are currently ‘missed’ as they do not have access to a trained psychologist can be identified at a much earlier stage so that intervention and investigation can start in time to help them to reach their full potential,” said Prof. Murray.

The responsive nature of touchscreen tablets allowed young children aged 18 months onwards to interact and solve puzzles without the need for language. Traditionally, cognitive ability in very young children was assessed based on the surrogate markers of developmental milestones.

On the launch of the new company, Litolda, head of UCC College of Medicine and Health, Prof. Helen Whelton, said INFANT had taken a multi-disciplinary approach combining engineering, neuroscience, gaming, psychology and clinical insights to develop a ground-breaking new platform to help assessments of child development. She believed the company would provide the pathway to translate this into direct clinical use as well as driving economic impact as an exciting digital health start-up.

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