In 2013, a new BioWin project, NeuroAtt, was launched to enable making a reliable diagnosis for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and to find the least invasive treatment for children. Now the project is nearing completion, we heard out Anne-Marie Clarinval, CEO of Human Waves and project leader of NeuroAtt, on her contemplations about this peculiar project.
Why are you interested in attention disorders?
Clarinval: “Because of the strong social interest, given that attention disorders affects between 5% and 7% of the school population. Also, the diagnosis remains problematic, which principally is a clinical one. The child, the parents, and sometimes the teachers complete a questionnaire, the child has to undergo a lot of tests conducted by a psychologist before being referred to a child psychiatrist and this all takes a lot of time and money. With NeuroAtt we want to develop a diagnostic tool to complement the existing clinical approaches and thereby speed up the diagnostic process and reduce the cost.”
How does the new method diagnose ADHD?
Clarinval: “We place the child before visual stimuli on a computer and register the cerebral activity. Depending on these stimuli, the child is asked to carry out an action, for example press the computer space bar or not. During the analysis, we can very clearly monitor the differences in the cerebral signals between a person suffering from the disorder and one who does not. We are also able to identify the origin of the cerebral signals in the brain using high-density electroencephalograms, and mathematical and statistical models (see illustration).
In short, the NeuroAtt project has enabled to render a computer algorithm that will assist the diagnosis of the disorder. In this last year that the project is running, the diagnosis assistance tool will be finalized and normalized, which is essential to market the program.”
Are better treatments available?
Clarinval: “At present, in most cases advice and psychosocial treatment is put into place. Rilatin is also prescribed, an amphetamine derivative that can have a series of side effects. But with NeuroAtt, we aim to find a natural treatment that we call ‘positive neurofeedback' and that is based on the measurement of cerebral rhythms coupled with a play element. We are working on alpha rhythms, which are produced when the child feels relaxed. We ask the child to think of something nice. When the child produces these alpha rhythms, it is rewarded by a little robot that starts walking.
That is the positive and fun feedback. Based on the same principle, the child can also generate other rhythms linked to attention.
This treatment is still under development, but we are already very pleased with the initial results. “
You founded Human Waves when the project was launched. Is health the only field in which the company is active?
Anne-Marie Clarinval: “No, it isn't. Our company manages a technological platform that enables us to record, measure and analyse all kinds of biological signals. The principle behind our approach is to develop our services and our products according to the needs of our customers. This enables our platform to be used in the health sector, as well as for sports: both high-level sport and sport for disabled persons. We measure ocular activity, the positioning of the eyes, muscular activity, perform strength analysis, etc. The biomechanics of movement is also one of our strengths. We have a 3D system analysing kinematics and dynamics of movement.
The system uses a special motion capture technique in a real and virtual situation, aiming to help people find winning neuromotor strategies.”
Is this why you developed the 3D Visual Trainer?
Clarinval: “Yes, the 3D Visual Trainer is a tool for training the visual perception for a variety of applications. For example, it is used today by the Charleroi Zebras, athletes, security agents, driving instructors, drivers of large vehicles etc. In short, all kinds of occupations that require a rapid analysis of a situation and hence rapid decision-making. The advantage of this product is that it not only trains the visual field, it is also based on PAMDA: Perception, Attention, Memorisation, Decision, and Action. It develops the capacities of the individual, to better perceive the situation he finds himself in, to pay attention to several elements at the same time, to memorize what is happening, to take a quick decision and to act on it equally quickly. In the case of a soccer player it enables the player to quickly change strategy to avoid a defender and to determine the risk of injury in sports in which contacts are frequent (football, basketball, rugby, etc.). “
As if this would not yet be exciting enough, you are also taking part in space research?
Clarinval: “We have just received the ESA (European Space Agency) trademark, making us very proud. Professor Guy Chéron, co-founder member of Human Waves, was asked to analyse the encephalograms (EEGs) of astronauts at the international space station. This initiated many of the current developments. We see that the astronaut's brain rhythms are totally different. At a space station you are in a free floating environment and when carrying out a task on a computer, the brain realizes that the body is in constant movement. Situating your body on earth is basic. Not so in space. Weightlessness upsets perception and makes constant demands on the brain's energy. This means that the brain manages any cognitive task in these conditions differently. “
The NeuroAtt project is a collaboration between academic (Guy Chéron, professor at theLaboratory of Neurophysiology and Movement Biomechanics, Bernard Dan, neuropaediatrician at the Queen Fabiola Children's Hospital; Paul Verbanck, Head of Psychiatry at the Brugman University Hospital, ADHD adults department) and industrial partners (Anne-Marie Clarinval, CEO of Human Waves, Nomics and Sirris).
More information on Human Waves here: http://www.humanwaves.be