Predict Alzheimers decades early with this virtual reality test

conde nast jaunt vr samsung invisible o virtual reality facebook
The distortion of reality that accompanies the onset of Alzheimers is one that seemingly all families and individuals would want to avoid. And now, a virtual reality test just may aid in that endeavor. According to a team of scientists led by Lukas Kunz of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, one’s performance on a virtual maze could determine risk for the neurodegenerative disease, and “may provide a neurocognitive explanation of spatial disorientation in Alzheimer’s disease.”

As per the new research results, published recently in journal Science, “young adults at genetic risk for [Alzheimers] exhibit reduced grid-cell–like representations and altered navigational behavior in a virtual arena.” These grid-cell representations refer to a group of brain cells in the entorhinal cortex of the brain used primarily for memory and navigation. Patients with Alzheimers tend to develop abnormalities in this cortex, which makes scientists believe that these grid cells are linked to the onset of the disease.

In conducting their experiment, the German team asked participants between the ages of 18 and 30 to find their way through a virtual maze. They also were asked to complete certain tasks, like collecting virtual objects and putting them back in the same place awhile later. Throughout the entirety of the process, researchers monitored the subjects’ brain activity by way of an fMRI.

They found that while participants who were at risk for developing Alzheimers (those who carry the e4 variant of the APOE gene) performed just as well as their peers, the at-risk group not only used a different part of their brain, but also behaved differently in the test. Nikolai Axmacher, a study co-author, noted “an uptick of activity in the hippocampus (a nearby brain region usually implicated in emotion and memory) during the trial, but only in the at-risk population that wasn’t relying on the grid-cell network,” ScienceMag reports. “This suggests that you can either use the grid cell system or you can use the hippocampus,” he explained.

Moreover, whereas the not at-risk group wandered about the entire virtual environment, those with fewer grid-cell representations (the APOE-e4 carriers), tended to remain close to the edges of the environment. “The potential implications of this work are interesting because they indicate that properly functioning grid cells are correlated with human spatial behavior,” said Joshua Jacobs of Columbia, a neuroscientists uninvolved with the study.

Ultimately, the researchers concluded, “Our results could provide a new basic framework for preclinical research on Alzheimer’s disease,” and while more work has yet to be done to fully understand the disease, these latest experiments suggest a new way of identifying risk factors.

“Although we don’t know whether the young people in this study will go on to develop Alzheimer’s, characterizing early brain changes associated with genetic risk factors is important to help researchers better understand why some people may be more susceptible to the disease later in life,” said Dr. Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research. “The risk factors for Alzheimer’s are diverse, including age, genetics and lifestyle, and research is vital to allow us to unpick how each of these factors could contribute to a person’s risk of the disease.”

Emerging Tech

A.I.-generated text is supercharging fake news. This is how we fight back

A new A.I. tool is reportedly able to spot passages of text written by algorithm. Here's why similar systems might prove essential in a world of fake news created by smart machines.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this winter with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Legion'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (March 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Emerging Tech

Take a dip in the Lagoon Nebula in first image from SPECULOOS instrument

The European Southern Observatory has released the first image collected by their new SPECULOOS instrument, and it's a stunning portrait of the Lagoon Nebula, a swirling cloud of dust and gas where new stars are born.
Emerging Tech

Robot assistants from Toyota and Panasonic gear up for the Tokyo Olympics

Japan plans to use the 2020 Olympics to showcase a range of its advanced technologies. Toyota and Panasonic are already getting in on the act, recently unveiling several robotic designs that they intend to deploy at the event.
Emerging Tech

Racing to catch a flight? Robot valet at French airport will park your car

Hate searching for parking at the airport when you need to catch a plane? Startup Stanley Robotics recently unveiled a new outdoor automated robotic valet system. Here's how it works.

Bags with brains: Smart luggage and gadgets are making travel smoother

The bag you use to tote your stuff can affect the experience of any trip. In response, suitcases are wising up, and there are now options for smart luggage with scales, tracking, and more. Here are our favorite pieces.

At $99, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano minicomputer seeks to bring robotics to the masses

Nvidia announced a new A.I. computer, the Jetson Nano. This computer comes with an 128-core GPU that Nvidia claims can handle pretty much any A.I. framework you could imagine. At $99, it's an affordable way for A.I. newbies to get involved.

Nvidia’s A.I. Playground lets you edit photos, experience deep learning research

Nvidia is making it easier to access information on deep learning research. It has launched an online space with three demos for image editing, styling, as well as photorealistic image synthesis. 

British Airways’ new Club Suite for business class comes with a door

British Airways is going after a bigger slice of the business class market with the imminent launch of the Club Suite. The plush seating option offers a more private space as well as an easier route to the bathroom.
Smart Home

Sony’s Aibo robot dog can now patrol your home for persons of interest

Sony released the all-new Aibo in the U.S. around nine months ago, and since then the robot dog has (hopefully) been melting owners' hearts with its cute looks and clever tricks. Now it has a new one up its sleeve.
Emerging Tech

Inflating smart pills could be a painless alternative to injections

Could an inflating pill containing hidden microneedles replace painful injections? The creators of the RaniPill robotic capsule think so — and they have the human trials to prove it.
Emerging Tech

The U.S. Army is building a giant VR battlefield to train soldiers virtually

Imagine if the U.S. Army was able to rehearse battlezone scenarios dozens, or even hundreds, or times before settling foot on actual terrain. Thanks to virtual reality, that's now a possibility.