Personal Genome Project will integrate brain training tests to help identify key memory genes towards understanding neurodegeneration
By Eriona Hysolli
(BOSTON) – 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 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 in the study, please visit: https://wyss.harvard.edu/pgp-lumosity