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CNAC Developmental Core Request for Applications

The Developmental Core is currently inviting interested researchers to apply for funding via the Developmental Core Pilot Grants. Applicants must provide a project title, updated biosketch, and specific aims for the proposed project by Monday, April 6. For more information on how to apply, please see the attached flyer.

Developmental Core Pilot Project designs Virtual Reality supermarket task for predicting neurocognitive function in HIV-infected subjects

Despite the development of combination antiretroviral therapy, HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders remain prevalent. Traditional neuropsychological (NP) approaches commonly use paper and pencil-based psychometric tests for impairment assessment. Although these approaches provide highly standardized control and delivery of performance challenges, the extent to which these tasks predict everyday functioning is not always clear, as these tasks do not simulate real world activities, such as managing finances or remembering appointments. The assessment of neurocognitive ability using tasks to simulate everyday activities may confer an estimate of the patient’s functioning that is more accurate than the one within laboratory conditions. Virtual reality (VR) allows the user to interact in real time with a pseudo immersing 3D environment by a behavioral interface and the presentation of close-to-real-life testing environments. Our overarching goal is the following: to design a measure that will detect NP impairment of HIV-infected subjects in a simulated environment, and to analyze how the number of errors detected in this environment will correlate with NP dysfunction on traditional tests. To this end, we developed a virtual supermarket task simulating a fully textured, medium size supermarket with shelves and display stands for various items (i.e. drinks, food, baby food, pet food, meat, fish, bread, cleaning equipment, and hygiene products), a produce section (fruit and vegetables), a small bar area, a fully functional ATM machine, and a checkout desk. The participant, as virtual entity/avatar, can move inside the supermarket and perform a shopping task simulation: the VR software asks the subject to find items from a fixed list that will appear on the screen. We also developed a variant of the VR supermarket with different displayed items and a lower number of shopping objects to let the subject learn the use of the VR supermarket task. The VR simulation can analyze different information such as: (1) the total time to complete the task; (2) the distance traveled in the supermarket; (3) the number of correct items chosen; (4) the number of incorrect items chosen; (5) the number of the items from the list purchased more than once. We are currently recruiting HIV-infected subjects in an IRB approved research study to correlate the performances of the learning phase and shopping task with the measurements of the NP tests. We are analyzing how the number of errors detected in this environment can correlate with NP dysfunction on traditional tests. The facets of NP functions we expect to correlate with the VR test will be episodic memory and executive functions tests. These correlations will help in evaluating the effectiveness of VR supermarket test in assessing executive functions.

Giuseppe Russo, PhD, Associate Professor of Biology (Research), College of Science and Technology, Deputy Director, Sbarro Health Research Organization, Temple University