A mobile virtual reality game is helping Alzheimer’s researchers detect a player’s genetic risk of acquiring the disease.
Glitchers developed Sea Hero Quest to help research Alzheimers and Dementia. It was made in partnership with Alzheimer's Research UK, University College London and the University of East Anglia, with funding provided by Deutsche Telekom.
Launced three years ago, the game’s three million downloads have helped generate over 1,700 years of lab-based research through gameplay.
Chart a course
Sea Hero Quest uses spatial challenges with memorisation elements to test one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s, of which loss of navigational skills is an early sign.
Data was gathered from 27,108 players in the UK aged 50 and 75, an age group most vulnerable to the condition.
Lab-tested participants who were found to carry the APOE4 gene - a gene that increases the likelihood of suffering Alzheimer’s later in life - were subsequently found to find Sea Hero Quest’s navigation challenging.
"This is really important because these are people with no memory problems," said UEA Norwich Medical School lead researcher Michael Hornberger.
"Meanwhile, those without the APOE4 gene travelled roughly the same distance as the 27,000 people forming the baseline score. This difference in performance was particularly pronounced where the space to navigate was large and open.
"It means that we can detect people who are at genetic risk of Alzheimer's based on how they play the game."