UC Berkeley Aging Research and Technology Summit explores effects of neurodegenerative disorders

Maya Valluru/Staff

Related Posts

A group of decorated researchers, professors, entrepreneurs and specialists across the fields of aging and technology congregated Tuesday for the second annual UC Berkeley Aging Research and Technology Summit.

This year’s panel — held at Pauley Ballroom — featured over 25 speakers who addressed the theme of “Disrupting Neurodegenerative Diseases.” The speakers discussed progress in research, novel interventions and the role of technology in the prevention and treatment of different ailments.

Thomas Insel, co-founder and president of Mindstrong Health, delivered the first keynote address. He focused on digital phenotyping, or the the idea that signals can be used to learn about human feelings and behavior. Digital phenotyping also involves a data set, which includes keyboard metrics and cognitive traits that serve as “digital biomarkers,” according to Insel.

In his presentation, Insel said Mindstrong Health identifies objective measures and generates models through natural language processing.

As much as Insel emphasized the promise of the digital future for brain health, he also cautioned against the potential threats of this technology.

“As a principle, we should be thinking about whether we’re empowering patients and families,” Insel said in his presentation.

According to Insel, many individuals are concerned about surveillance and privacy. He also discussed protecting individual data and the extent to which patients have agency over others in regards to accessing their data.

Among the presenters was Elizabeth Edgerly, the executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California and Northern Nevada.

According to Edgerly, 5.8 million Americans live with some form of dementia. By 2050, this number is projected to increase to 14 million.

Edgerly said while women are disproportionately affected by the disease, “(they) are also disproportionately caregivers.” Edgerly also stressed the importance of a timely diagnosis as well as adequate care and support. She identified the barriers to Alzheimer’s treatment, including a lack of long-term care and affordable, culturally-appropriate support.

In addition, Edgerly discussed the role of public policy and advocacy.

Steven DeMello, a patient advocate and artist, presented on implementing effective treatment following a diagnosis. Having personally suffered from Parkinson’s disease, DeMello said he believes establishing measurable criteria for diagnosis is critical. He added that this should start with embedding assessment tools in cell phones and researching gait, balance and tremor. The data collected should be aggregated, according to DeMello.

Allison Sekuler, chair of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Toronto, works to fund entrepreneurial solutions to neurodegenerative diseases.

Sekuler said her work helps fund innovations at the point of care as well as other projects, including chat bots, music clubs and wireless EEG devices.

“We build bridges among our different sets of partners … to get ideas validated,” Sekuler said during her presentation.

Contact Sasha Langholz at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LangholzSasha‏.