Early Detection - Dementia

Business Need

Located on a 22-acre campus in Toronto, Ontario, Baycrest is a global leader in the field of brain health and aging. In 2009, Baycrest partnered with MaRS, the leading Canadian innovation center, to commercialize brain health assessment, management, and rehabilitation solutions based on the science of Baycrest and other respected sources. With the support of the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation they formed a for-profit venture called Cogniciti. Cogniciti operates with a small executive team that is supported by the talents of dozens of professionals at Baycrest and MaRS.

Michael Meagher, President of Cogniciti, explains why Baycrest is involved in a commercial venture. "Virtually all public hospitals in Canada are facing financial challenges and are looking for ways to keep providing superior healthcare despite those challenges," he says. "Over the years Baycrest has done an amazing job on the fundraising front. With Cogniciti and other ventures, Baycrest is innovating by commercializing its intellectual capital to add new revenue streams."

The starting point for Cogniciti: an online screening tool for memory loss. "Baycrest doctors and scientists tell us that a natural part of aging is that our memories and attention become less acute," explains Meagher. "The key issue is determining when simple forgetfulness becomes something more serious. Because the early-stage symptoms for memory loss due to aging, memory loss due to highly treatable conditions such as anxiety or depression, and memory loss due to serious diseases such as Alzheimer's are so similar, people tend to delay getting checked out - often for years. And during that time, many live in fear that their condition is Alzheimer's, the world's second most-feared disease after cancer. Those delays cause needless worry for the well and make treatment tougher for those with an illness. Our mission is to help eliminate the delays."

By late 2011, Cogniciti completed most of the clinical work required to adapt the three-hour battery of clinical cognitive tests to a 20-minute, self-administered assessment. The company then began looking at how to transition that assessment - running on a PC in a lab environment at the time - to the web. In doing so, Cogniciti sought to minimize the distractions, delays, and expenses involved with building a scalable IT infrastructure on its own.

Solution

Realizing that a cloud-based solution was a good fit for its needs, Cogniciti examined offerings from several vendors before choosing Windows Azure from Microsoft. Windows Azure serves as the Microsoft cloud services development, hosting, and management environment, and provides on-demand compute, storage, networking, and content delivery capabilities through Microsoft data centers. "It all came down to the relationship - we needed a technology partner who could help us envision a solution and then stick around to make sure we were successful," says Meagher. "It quickly became evident that partnering with Microsoft was the right approach."

Cogniciti also chose Navantis, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network with multiple Gold and Silver competencies. "There was no shortage of qualified implementation partners; all of the proposals we received were impressive in terms of quality of thought and attention to detail," says Meagher. "We chose Navantis because of its healthcare expertise, deep relationship with Microsoft, and extensive experience developing on Windows Azure."

Cogniciti expects to deliver its Online Memory Assessment in the fall of 2012. After registering anonymously, people will be presented with seven exercises, each lasting a few minutes and proven in the lab to be good indicators of the two cognitive areas most affected by age: memory and attention. The test results will be used to generate an overall assessment of the person's brain health, calibrated to account for age and educational background. A personalized report will then be immediately presented to the test-taker that answers the question, "Is my memory normal or should I be seeing my doctor?"

"Think of the Online Memory Assessment as a thermometer for the mind," says Meagher. "Most of us use a thermometer when we're feeling poorly to help understand whether our temperature is high enough to warrant a call to the doctor. In the same way, the Online Memory Assessment helps us understand whether our memory problems are simply the result of normal aging or whether we should see a doctor."

Meagher expects most test-takers to fall into the 'worried well' category - that is, people with healthy brains who are concerned about the forgetfulness that comes to most of us as we get older. "For these people, we're hoping that the Assessment will put their minds and the minds of their family members at ease," says Meagher. "If the results fall outside the norm for someone's age and education, the Assessment will provide a clear, step-by-step path for how to best prepare for a visit to the doctor. Good preparation can make the doctor's diagnosis faster and better, which is exactly what most patients are looking for."

Through its efforts, Cogniciti is delivering a screening tool that is easily accessible, can be used in the privacy of peoples' own homes, and will be of benefit to all who use it.