Digital Therapies: it’s time to play your medicine

A very interesting field of digital health is the “digital therapeutics”, a new frontier for people care, in addition to pharmacological and psychological therapies.

Although the definition is not new – the first quotes date back to 2015 – we are witnessing a growth in the areas of application of these therapies and the continuous improvement of the technologies used.

The development of digital therapies covers both widespread chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular or respiratory diseases, and diseases related to mental or neurological disorders such as depression, attention deficit and hyperactivity syndrome (ADHD), anxiety, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

In the first case, digital therapies are focused on changing patients’ behaviour and helping them to manage their own pathology. The primary objective is to stimulate patient engagement by providing them with information, suggestions and instructions on how to improve their health.

In the second case there are the cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT), for example in depressed patients, with anxiety or applications to stimulate areas of the brain and thus reduce cognitive deficits.

Akili Interactive Labs is an American company that creates digital neurological treatments to directly improve cognitive deficits. The company makes interactive video games, designed with proprietary technology to hit cognitive deficits at source.

The company works in three areas:

  • selective management of stimuli for cognitive control based on the prefrontal cortex, to improve attention, working memory and executive functions
  • space navigation
  • The most mature product is AKL-T01, an experimental digital medicine being evaluated as a potential treatment for children with ADHD. AKL-T01 provides sensory stimuli to target and activate the prefrontal cortex, the brain area known to play a key role in cognitive function.
  • AKL-T01 is under evaluation and certification by the FDA. If authorized, physicians will be able to prescribe AKL-T01 to treat ADHD patients just as they currently prescribe drugs.
  • Starting from the experience gained with AKL-T01, the company is developing a product for digital treatment of attention deficit in children with autism spectrum disorders. Akili is also testing two other products as potential prescription digital drugs for the treatment of cognitive impairment in adult patients with Major Depressive Disorder.
  • One aspect that I find truly unique is that video games, which according to many distract and absorb the attention of many adolescents but also adults can in this case be a therapy to treat the attention deficit.
  • Other examples of digital medicines are:
    • reSET-O, a cognitive behavioural therapy app to help increase retention (the amount of time a patient participates) in an outpatient treatment program for individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD). reSET-O, the first FDA-approved app, should be used in addition to outpatient treatment under the care of a health care professional, in combination with treatment that includes buprenorphine and emergency management.
      Quit Genius, a cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) app to stop smoking, that works with animated videos, audio sessions and interactive exercises.

    The list of digital medicines under development is very extensive. On we will keep you updated on the most interesting news.

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