Boy holding tablet

Credit: UCSF

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first video game therapeutic as a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, based on research by UC San Francisco’s Adam Gazzaley, M.D., Ph.D.

In 2013, Gazzaley published a paper in Nature reporting that six weeks of training with a video game called Neuroracer, in which the player seeks to discern relevant cues from distracting ones during a car race simulation, improved attention in older adults. The results were striking, given that attention markedly declines with age.

Gazzaley concluded that these adults’ improved performance after playing the game was due to enhanced function in a brain network involved in cognitive control, which is necessary to pursue goals. With the new FDA approval, children can now be treated with a kids’ version of the technology, called EndeavorRX. Gazzaley is a co-founder of Akili Interactive, which produces EndeavorRx, and which conducted pivotal clinical trials of the game as an ADHD treatment with researchers at Duke University and elsewhere.

In the 2013 research, Gazzaley’s lab measured low-frequency brain waves in the prefrontal cortex, as well as the coherence between frontal and posterior regions of the brain. As the older players of Neuroracer became more adept at the multitasking challenges of the game, their brains modulated this key neural network so that it came to resemble the activity seen in the brains of young adults.

“The Neuroracer study published in Nature formed the basis of the UCSF patent that Akili’s EndeavorRx is based on,” said Gazzaley, who directs the Neuroscape Center at UCSF and is a professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry. “Of course, there has been much development and many more studies since then — not all of which, including the ADHD research, we did. But this is our technology at its core.”

Read the FDA press release about the approval.