Proof of Concept ERC grant for Balázs Hangya
Balázs Hangya's concept proposing quantitative cognitive testing to improve the quality of life for Parkinson's disease patients wins an ERC grant.
Balázs Hangya, team leader and Principal Investigator of the Institute of Experimental Medicine at ELKH, winner of an ERC Starting Grant in 2016, has been awarded a Proof of Concept grant this year. This grant is to help the verification of the innovative potential of ideas from researchers whose proposals build on previous research also funded by the ERC.
Balázs Hangya and his group have been investigating the interaction of different neuromodulatory systems during learning and other cognitive processes for several years. Understanding these processes is essential to understanding cognitive impairment in Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease as well.
In Parkinson's disease, current treatments focus on dominant motor symptoms such as tremors, bradykinesia (slowed movement), and postural instability, although more than 90% of patients also develop cognitive impairment, including impaired learning, memory, and decision-making. These cognitive symptoms, which worsen with age, are at best only moderately improved by conventional treatments, although alleviating them could significantly improve the patient's quality of life. If condition assessments were regular, routine, and quantitative rather than questionnaires, PD therapy could be adjusted to focus not only on movement but also on optimizing cognitive function.
The winning concept proposes to use a behavioral test of decision-making combined with electroencephalography (EEG) and electromyography (EMG) measurements to quantitatively assess complex aspects of cognitive functions, including inhibitory control, reinforcement learning, and decision-making during a conflict, and to use artificial intelligence to look for "EEG biomarkers" that help quantify cognitive function.
This quantitative cognitive testing (QCT) could be extended to other areas of neurodegenerative dementias, in addition to improving Parkinson's disease therapy based on systematic feedback.
QCT could also be used in telemedicine, reducing the number of hospital visits and patient-physician face-to-face encounters, thus reducing the disease-related cost burden on health systems and society.
This one-and-a-half-year grant will allow for proof-of-concept trials to be carried out and will provide an opportunity to protect intellectual property rights and explore commercialization strategies.
This is primarily to ensure that QCT reaches those for whom it is intended as soon as possible, to help achieve the best possible cognitive function, and to improve the quality of life for patients and their families.