Adam Gazzaley and Parneet Pal, Chief Science Officer of Wisdom Labs, discuss the challenges of the modern world for our ancient brains, how to become aware of, and overcome, the interference of distraction and multitasking, and the new era of digital medicine. Conversation includes: The critical elements of what it means to be human, ethical design of technology, the cascading effect of cognitive challenges, and harnessing neuroplasticity through experience to develop stronger brains…
We’ve met Adam Gazzaley elsewhere on the blog, but probably because he and Rob Reid have a friendship spanning years, this is a very friendly and thorough discussion of all Adam is up to. Reid has a new book (fiction, sci-fi) called After On, and Gazzaley was called on to provide insights into a few of the book’s key concepts related to consciousness and neuroscience.
There has been a lot of talk in the literature lately about tACS as it applies to cognitive enhancement and this is explored in the conversation. If I got this right… there is a distinct pattern of ‘Midline Frontal Theta’ frequency, at around 6Hz (as measured by EEG) associated with ‘focus’ (as measured by fMRI) in the Pre Frontal Cortex. This begs the question as to whether focus could be generated by using tACS to ‘entrain’ the PFC (as in… induce 6Hz Theta in the PFC using tACS). Again I will remind the reader that I am not a scientist!
Gazzaley also brings us up to speed on the clinical trial for FDA clearance of EVO, his video game/therapeutic that Akili has developed for kids with ADHD.
The episode is embedded here, but swing over to https://after-on.com/episodes/002 to read the show notes and to learn more about Rob Reid. He has a number of fascinating interviews with other guests in his podcast and brings a lot to the table himself considering a long career both as a technologist, investor and author.
Video Games for Neuro-Cognitive Optimization
Neuroscape Lab at UCSF Publications
Enhancement of multitasking performance and neural oscillations by tACS
Nature cover story: Video gaming enhances cognitive skills that decline with age. Game Changer (pdf)
If you’re a Twitter person, follow along here: https://twitter.com/DIYtDCS where I cover more advanced tDCS-related news.
In new work Jonides in presenting at the CNS conference, he and colleagues have found that tDCS has a robust effect on working memory, with enhancements lasting over a course of months. “Previous research has been equivocal about whether tDCS enhances training, and there have been no long-term investigations of how long that training effect lasts,” Jonides says.
In the new study, 62 participants randomly received tDCS stimulation to either the right or left prefrontal cortex or received sham stimulation while performing a visuospatial working memory task. After 7 training sessions, those who received the tDCS stimulation had increased working memory capabilities, even several months after completing their training. They also found that those who receive stimulation on the right prefrontal cortex had selective ability to transfer the working memory to non-trained tasks.
I will definitely be following up on this one. Neuroscientists working to test brain training claims 4/5/16
Here, we review the recent research that has explored the effects of tDCS on WM (working memory) in healthy young adults, older adults, and patient populations. We also discuss several recent meta-analyses that have examined the efficacy of tDCS as a WM intervention. While a majority of the papers reviewed suggest that tDCS can modulate WM, this effect is highly inconsistent. These seemingly conflicting results may be driven by differences in study design, tDCS protocol, or inter-individual differences.
Meta research paper looks years of tDCS working memory research. Interesting and useful, in the list of papers they cite they add (highlighted) the particular significance of that paper. Uncertainty and Promise: the Effects of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation on Working Memory 4/5/16
Those advantages appeal to the DIY users as well. On Reddit’s tDCS community, many anonymous users describe using the technique to treat mental disorders, including depression and anxiety. Alexander Mark is one of them. A 63-year-old Michigan resident, he says, “I am afflicted with Bipolar Disorder II, and learned about tDCS in an effort to find a way to relieve myself of the severe depression that often comes with the illness.” He began trying it when his medication proved ineffective (though that’s no longer the case), and he’s only had a single negative experience—when he misplaced an electrode. (He currently uses the Chattanooga Ionto iontophoresis system, which sells for about $700 through third-party merchants on Amazon.)
Article also discusses a Direct To Consumer tDCS device that didn’t do so well in their tests. The promise and peril of DIY electrical brain stimulation By Anna Denejkina 4/10/16
I would argue that the fine tradition of self-experimentation can be harnessed, if structures are created that allow at-home users to contribute their experiences to a common store of knowledge. At present online sharing of tDCS experiences is haphazard, and is restricted to the more anarchic fringes of the internet. However, those communities are generating potentially valuable information, which could be of great interest to researchers and to manufacturers. At-home and DIY users frequently stretch the limits of protocols, delivering higher current for greater amounts of time.17 Bringing at-home users into the fold will provide useful information about safe and unsafe protocols, and will generate important information about the milder side-effects of tDCS that are thought to be under-reported by researchers
In his paper The regulation of consumer tDCS: engaging a community of creative self-experimenters, Nick Davis makes the case that there is the potential for home-use DIY users to contribute to our understanding of tDCS. 4/5/16
Tyler, who co-founded Thync and recently returned to academia as an associate professor at Arizona State University, says such concerns are legitimate. Yet he is certain that they can be overcome and that medical-grade brain devices will one day be commonplace and able to, for example, relieve the pain of migraines or treat debilitating neurological conditions.
“Yes, a lot more work still needs to be done,” he said. “But the technology holds tremendous promise. It’s not just about us saying we’re going to stimulate the nerves so you can chill.”
Mostly about the Thync (not tDCS) device. Note that Jamie Tyler, who was a co-founder and lead scientist at Thync, has returned to academia (and I’ll hazard a guess, to his first love, transcranial pulsed ultrasound stimulation). Brain-zapping gadgets promise to make you a better you — smarter, stronger, even happier. 3/29/16
We’ve covered Dr. Adam Gazzaley director of the Gazzaley Lab at UCSF previously so I was excited to see he was being interviewed for one of my favorite podcasts, ShrinkrapRadio by Dr. David Van Nuys. I’m a big fan of Dr. Dave and have been enjoying his interviews with top psychologists for years. (Especially those with Jungian analysts.) I’ve clipped an excerpt of the interview that deals directly with tDCS and brain stimulation below but I highly recommend checking out the entire episode as it provides an excellent framework for understanding the notion of brain training using technology including video games designed specifically to enhance memory and cognition.
In this clip Dr. Gazzaley lays out what clearly is the near-future of non-invasive brain stimulation… You’re playing a video game that has been optimized to enhance working memory (for example). At the same time your EEG is being monitored for brain activity. According to the EEG data, tDCS (tACS, tRNS etc) is activated for the purpose of enhancing activity in that region of your brain. As your game accuracy increases, the game adapts to increase difficulty to an optimum training level. Loop!
Here’s a 2 minute clip from Dr. Dave’s interview with Adam Gazzaley
Dr. Gazzaley’s (@ co-founder with @) company, Akili (@), just announced (1/22/16) $30.5 million in funding. Interesting, Akili is part of the PureTech (@) family of companies we covered recently (Tal Medical).
A few of Dr. Gazzaley’s papers you might find interesting.
Video game training enhances cognitive control in older adults Nature (pdf)
Effects of noninvasive brain stimulation on cognitive function in healthy aging and Alzheimer’s disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. (pdf)
Dr Gazzaley’s (Nov 2015) Ted Talk
After more than a dozen Thync sessions, I’d consider keeping one around to use when I need a chill pill or some encouragement to go to the gym. It’s not a perfect replacement for coffee or wine—more delicious, not to mention social, ways to shift my state of mind. But Thync is a drug-free alternative. It’s just less well understood.
Getting the hang of digitally vibing out takes a few days. The hardest part is applying the tortilla-chip-shaped gadget to your head so it can access the right nerves. Pick the wrong spot and you get the brain-freeze effect; place it too loosely and you get a burning sensation. It uses a gooey disposable strip (sold in $20 packs of five). The other end of the strip goes behind your ear or at the base of your neck to allow the electricity to complete a circuit.
There’s potential for user error, though not self-harm, Thync says, if you follow instructions. (Thync provides guidance via a manual, online videos and live chat.)
Tim Ferris interviews Dr. Adam Gazzaley of the Gazzaley Lab at UC San Francisco.
His recent studies go far beyond mere description — he and his lab are exploring neuroplasticity and how we can optimize cognitive abilities, even in healthy adults. So, what happens when you combine cognitive-focused video games with neurofeedback, magnetic and electrical stimulation, and even performance-enhancing drugs? Well, that’s just one of many things we cover in this conversation
See Also: http://www.diytdcs.com/2015/01/scientists-uncover-surprising-new-tools-to-rejuvenate-the-brain-ucsf-edu/
Lots more media from the Gazzaley Lab here: http://gazzaleylab.ucsf.edu/select-lectures/
Another research and product development group to keep an eye on. Dr. Adam Gazzaley director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at UCSF has pioneered the development of software video games designed to improve aging brain health. In presentations he’s introduced tDCS as a possible neuromodulator for cognitive enhancement. From the story quoted below I would conclude that he has partnered with Akili for the purpose of creating a product which may (or may not) include tDCS.
The next version of the game, which Gazzaley is developing with Boston-based Akili Interactive Labs, where he is chief science adviser, will feature closed loops that adapt during every second of play. Gazzaley’s lab is also working on new games that employ transcranial electrical stimulation, a very mild shock targeted to particular parts of the brain to enhance learning. When playing one of these new games, the player receives low-frequency bursts of energy in certain parts of the frontal lobe. “We are studying if you learn faster if you play a game while we stimulate you at the right frequency,” Gazzaley explains.
See also: tDCS discussed at 13:56