“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 Harvard Medical School Professor George Church. Church and his team plan to begin recruitment for the study this month.

Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard


Brain-training app creators join in the genetics game

3 min read

Harvard collaborates with makers of Lumosity to study genetics, memory, attention

Producers of the popular online brain-training program Lumosity will collaborate with Harvard researchers to investigate the relationship between genetics and memory, attention, and reaction speed.

Scientists at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Harvard Medical School Personal Genome Project (PGP) announced today a new collaboration with Lumos Labs that will leverage the unique resources and expertise of each.

Wyss scientists plan to recruit 10,000 members from the PGP, which started in 2005 in the laboratory of George Church, a founding core faculty member of the Wyss Institute and a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School (HMS). PGP participants make their genome sequences, biospecimens, and health care data publicly available for unrestricted research on genetic and environmental relationships to disease and wellness. The Wyss researchers will use a set of cognitive tests from Lumos Labs’ NeuroCognitive Performance Test, a brief, repeatable, online assessment to evaluate participants’ memory functions, including object recall, object pattern memorization, and response times.

Church’s team and HMS postdoctoral fellows Elaine Lim and Rigel Chan 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,” Church said.

To validate their findings, the team will sequence, edit, and visualize DNA, model neuronal development in 3-D brain organoids ex vivo, and finally 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, 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.”

Church, Lim, and Chan plan to begin recruitment for the study this month.

The PGP-Lumosity memory project is the latest in a long line of research collaborations supported by each platform. Through their Human Cognition Project, Lumos Labs is currently working with independent researchers at more than 60 different institutions on a range of topics, including normal aging, some clinical conditions, and the relationship between exercise and Lumosity training. PGP participants can take part in stem cell banking with the New York Stem Cell Foundation, “Go Viral” real-time cold and flu surveillance, the biology of circles with Harvard Medical School, the 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.

Wyss Institute Director Donald Ingber, who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at HMS and Boston Children’s Hospital, and professor of bioengineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said the current project has the potential to open 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.”

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