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Mar 9, 2017

Wyss Institute and Lumos Labs Launch Research Collaboration on Memory of High Performing Individuals

Personal Genome Project will integrate brain training tests to help identify key memory genes towards understanding neurodegeneration

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Harvard Medical School (HMS)’s Personal Genome Project (PGP) announced today a new collaboration with Lumos Labs, makers of brain training program Lumosity. The PGP-Lumosity memory project aims to leverage the PGP’s and Lumos Labs’ unique resources and expertise to investigate the relationship between genetics and memory, attention and reaction speed.

Wyss scientists plan to recruit 10,000 members from the PGP which started in 2005 in the laboratory of George Church, PhD, a founding Core Faculty member of the Wyss Institute and also Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School. Participants in the PGP publicly share their genome sequences, biospecimens and healthcare data for unrestricted research on genetic and environmental relationships to disease and wellness. Wyss Institute researchers will use a select set of cognitive tests from Lumos Labs’ NeuroCognitive Performance Test (NCPT), a brief, repeatable, accessible web-based alternative to traditional pencil-paper cognitive assessments to evaluate participant’s memory functions, including their ability to recall objects, memorize object patterns, and response times.

Church’s research team at the Wyss Institute and HMS, spearheaded by Postdoctoral Fellows Elaine Lim, Ph.D., and Rigel Chan, Ph.D., will correlate extremely high performance scores with naturally-occurring variations in the participants’ genomes. “Our goal is to get people who have remarkable memory traits and engage them in the PGP. If you are exceptional in any way, you should share it not hoard it,” said Church.

To validate their findings, the team will take advantage of the Wyss Institute’s exceptional abilities to sequence, edit and visualize DNA, model neuronal development in 3D brain organoids ex vivo, and, ultimately, to test emerging hypotheses in experimental models of neurodegeneration.

“The Wyss Institute’s extraordinary scientific program and the Personal Genome Project’s commitment to research that is both pioneering and responsible make them ideal collaborators,” said Bob Schafer, Ph.D., Director of Research at Lumos Labs. “Combining Lumosity’s potential as a research tool could help us learn more about how our online assessment can help power innovative, large-scale studies.”

Drs. Church, Lim and Chan plan to begin recruitment for this study in early March.

The PGP-Lumosity memory project is the latest in a long line of exciting research collaborations supported by each platform. Through their Human Cognition Project, Lumos Labs is currently working with independent researchers at over 60 different institutions and investigating a range of topics, including normal aging, certain clinical conditions and the relationship between exercise and Lumosity training. Existing collaborative projects available to PGP participants include stem cell banking with the New York Stem Cell Foundation, “Go Viral” real-time Cold & Flu surveillance, the biology of Circles with Harvard Medical School, Genetics of Perfect pitch with the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, characterizing the human microbiome in collaboration with American Gut, and discounted whole genome sequencing strategies.

With the PGP’s aim to serve as a portal that empowers the public to drive scientific discovery through their participation, this collaboration is a synergistic convergence of two uniquely positioned organizations that combine science with broad outreach.

“What excites us about this project is opening up groundbreaking technologies developed at the Wyss Institute to explore the relationship between genetics and memory with possible implications for Alzheimer’s and other diseases,” said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, and Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard SEAS.

For more information or to register for the study, please visit: https://wyss.harvard.edu/pgp-lumosity

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University

The Wyss Institute uses Nature’s design principles to develop bioinspired materials and devices that will transform medicine and create a more sustainable world. Wyss researchers are developing innovative new engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing that are translated into commercial products and therapies through collaborations with clinical investigators, corporate alliances, and formation of new startups. The Wyss Institute creates transformative technological breakthroughs by engaging in high risk research, and crosses disciplinary and institutional barriers, working as an alliance that includes Harvard’s Schools of Medicine, Engineering, Arts & Sciences and Design, and in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, Dana–Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Boston University, Tufts University, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, University of Zurich and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Personal Genome Project

The Personal Genome Project (PGP) started in 2005 in the laboratory of George Church. The PGP pioneered the concept of open and accessible research projects in the post-genomics era. Participants in the PGP publicly share their genome sequences, biospecimens and healthcare data for unrestricted research on genetic and environmental relationships to disease and wellness. PGP participants are also welcome to upload their own DNA and healthcare data obtained from healthcare providers and third parties offering direct-to-consumer genetic testing.

Lumos Labs

Lumos Labs is the maker of brain training program Lumosity and online cognitive assessment, the NeuroCognitive Performance Test (NCPT). The NCPT is designed to measure functioning across working memory, visuospatial memory, psychomotor speed, fluid and logical reasoning, response inhibition, numerical calculations, and selective and divided attention. In 2015, Lumos Labs’ science team published results from a comparison of NCPT to traditional pencil-paper neuropsychological assessments in Frontiers in Psychology. The analysis found that the NCPT is reliable, is sensitive to expected age-related cognitive effects, and exhibited concurrent validity to standard neuropsychological tests. Lumos Labs’ research initiative, the Human Cognition Project, currently partners with over 90 independent researchers with the aim of accelerating the pace of cognitive research. By providing access to Lumosity’s cognitive training program, assessments, and longitudinal data, the Human Cognitive Project allows researchers to run larger, faster, and more accessible studies.

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