Cognitive deficits associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and learning disabilities affect the independence and well-being of tens of millions of Americans. Recent research in the fields of neuroscience and psychology suggest new techniques to improve learning and memory by enhancing memory consolidation processes active during sleep. Slow-wave ('deep') sleep is a form of non-REM sleep during which patterns of brain activity that occurred during recent episodes of learning are re-played and consolidated-or 'transferred'-to sites of long-term memory storage in the brain. Remarkably, a number of recent studies have shown that memory consolidation during slow-wave sleep can be enhanced by as much as ~30% with a simple, safe, and non-invasive technique. This memory enhancement technique involves four steps. (1) First, a sensory cue such as a smell or sound is presented during learning. (2) Next, the subject is monitored with brain recordings or other techniques during the subsequent night to detect periods of deep, slow-wave sleep. (3) At this time, the smell or sound is re-presented. (4) To evaluate whether memory function is improved, the subject is tested the following morning. Our Phase I SBIR specific aims are motivated by the goal of determining whether these findings can be extended beyond a small number of academic research laboratories using expensive equipment and trained technicians. Sheepdog Sciences was founded to design an inexpensive, easy-to-use, and flexible platform to permit application of these findings to a home or educational setting. We are hopeful that this technology will benefit people of all ages and cognitive abilities. To develop and assess the feasibility of this technology, we propose to develop prototype hardware (Aim 1) and web- services (Aim 2) suitable for in-home beta tests to determine whether this effect enhances memory in a home setting in healthy adults (Aim 3). Subsequent to these early feasibility studies, we are particularly interested in memory enhancement for individuals with neurodevelopment disorders such as Down syndrome or neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.
Cognitive deficits associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and learning disabilities affect the independence and well-being of millions of Americans. Recent research has revealed a technique for improving memory function by associating a sensory cue with learning, then re-presenting the same cue during slow-wave sleep. The goal of this proposal is to determine the feasibility of applying these strategies in a non-laboratory setting to improve cognitive function in healthy subjects and individuals with intellectual disabilities and cognitive deficits.