New NeuroDevNet-GRAND collaboration to focus on treatment of children with neurodevelopmental disorders
Researchers from both NCEs to take part in one-day workshop in Toronto aimed at identifying joint projects.
Posted by GRAND NCE, August 20, 2014

(VANCOUVER – August 19, 2014) Neurodevelopmental disorders including Cerebral Palsy (CP), Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affect many thousands of Canadians. Virtual reality and computer gaming technologies that harness the fun and motivational power of play have been shown to improve cognitive and motor functioning in children with these disorders, offering innovative ways to enhance existing treatments.

In 2010, GRAND NCE computer science researchers teamed up with neuroscientists in the NeuroDevNet NCE (NDN) to form NEUROGAME: a $500k initiative co-funded by both NCEs to apply emerging computer and gaming technologies as novel therapeutics for neurodevelopmental disorders.

The joint research explored the impact of game playing on cognition and the attention and working memory in children with FASD, as well as the physical fitness and social connectedness of children with CP. Before concluding in 2012, NEUROGAME spawned a number of highly successful projects that have continued to develop with other funding. Prototype games were tested in clinical settings:

For example, Dr. Nicholas Graham, a Professor at the School of Computing at Queen's University, and NeuroDevNet Senior Scientist and physician Dr. Darcy Fehlings at the University of Toronto and the Bloorview Research Institute, successfully piloted their Liberi cycling-based exergame for children with Cerebral Palsy (CP).

During adolescence, children with CP fail to gain muscle strength in proportion to their body growth; some lose the ability to walk, even with a walker, and must transition to using a wheelchair, which can further contribute to their poor physical fitness and social isolation. Regular play sessions with the cycle-based Liberi provide teens with a vigorous cardiovascular and muscle-strengthening workout that also encourages lively social interaction. The results, published recently in the journal Developmental Neurorehabilitation, show improved physical fitness and help enhance quality of life in youth with CP.

“We’ve been able to really expand the sorts of new media research that we do together with real domain experts in cerebral palsy and in neurodevelopmental disorders in general,” said Dr. Graham. “Working within GRAND has been hugely helpful for us in moving forward because we’ve been able to bring together researchers from the NeuroDevNet NCE together with researchers from GRAND.”

Following on the success of its predecessor, NEUROGAME2 is a new initiative between GRAND and NeuroDevNet being developed to support new research in areas such as therapeutic exergaming, neuro-feedback intervention for children with FASD, and cognitive training games for children with ASD or FASD. As with the earlier NEUROGAME, the new joint project will fund collaborations between GRAND and NeuroDevNet researchers to invent, develop and evaluate new media technologies (such as games or virtual world interventions), leading to innovative intervention strategies.

To initiate new research proposals, GRAND and NeuroDevNet will be holding a workshop on October 18, 2014 for investigators and trainees. Updates on this workshop and the process will be posted to the GRAND and NeuroDevNet websites.

NEUROGAME Highlights: A Timeline

June 2010

NEUROGAME was formed at the When Virtual Meets Reality Workshop (Ottawa) where researchers and HQP from NeuroDevNet and GRAND came together to explore areas of complementary research and expertise in the development and application of emerging digital technologies as novel therapeutic tools. A number of research proposals were later submitted in response to an open call for innovative and interdisciplinary projects that fit the mandate of the two NCEs. Read More [PDF]

December 2010

NeuroDevNet and GRAND committed $500,000 over two years to support collaborative research under the joint NEUROGAME project. Four projects emerged to develop therapies that use computer gaming technologies to address behavioural issues in neurodevelopmental disorders. Researchers in NEUROGAME would focus on exploring the application of video game technologies as interventions for children with brain disorders such as cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Read More

May 2011

A second When Virtual Meets Reality Workshop held at the GRAND 2011 Annual Conference in Vancouver aimed at expanding lines of communication between investigators and trainees involved in the individual projects as well as increasing understanding of the common themes that link all of the projects. Read More

May 2012

GRAND, NeuroDevNet, with partners CanAssist, Mitacs and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) sponsored Intersection 2012 at the University of Victoria. The workshop engaged researchers and participants from government, industry and non-profit organizations in stimulating panel discussions on the use of digital technologies to promote health, mobility and brain function, with a special focus on neurodevelopment and cognitive abilities. Read More

October 2012

Working with researchers in NeuroDevNet and GRAND, University of Saskatchewan computer science professor Dr. Regan Mandryk created a technique that allowed off-the-shelf computer games to be employed in a neurofeedback intervention for children with FASD. The research uses texture-based graphical overlays to vary game play based on the neurofeedback sensors. The research was published at the 14th international ACM SIGACCESS conference on computers and accessibility. Dr. Mandryk has also patented her invention. Read More (U of S Website)

November 2012

The Liberi exergame developed in NEUROGAME, showed especially promising results in clinical trials. The customized cycle-based exer-game is a collaboration led by NeuroDevNet Senior Scientist and physician Dr. Darcy Fehlings (U of T), Nicholas Graham (Queen’s). The game combines a dedicated social network that allows for head-to-head contests—and socializing—over long distances, with the goal of preserving mobility and diminishing isolation among teens with cerebral palsy. After NEUROGAM concluded in 2012, the original two-year exergame pilot was extended for another three years thanks to a $511,000 Collaborative Health Research Projects (CHRP) award funded jointly through NSERC and CIHR. Their research paper on Liberi received Honourable Mention at the Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2013) conference in Paris. Read More

October 2013

To celebrate World (Cerebral Palsy) CP Day, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital hosted a live, cross-Canada demonstration of the Liberi exergame for children with CP developed by GRAND and NeuroDevNet researchers led by Nicholas Graham (Queen’s) and Dr. Darcy Fehlings (U of T). Two players, one at the NeuroDevNet NCE Conference in Vancouver, and the other at Holland Bloorview in Toronto, connected via a virtual system that allowed them to pedal and play together in real-time. Watch CTV News coverage

June 2014

Students with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) at David Livingston School in Winnipeg had the opportunity to participate in a new program that uses Caribbean Quest, a cognitive training game developed within NEUROGAME by Dr. Bruce Gooch (University of Victoria) and Dr. Kim Kerns (University of Victoria). Aimed at younger children, the video game builds capacities to pay attention, recollect, and manipulate objects. The game was initially piloted with children with FASD, but has also undergone trials for children with autism through a Mitacs internship. Read More

July 2014

Eight youth with cerebral palsy participated in the pilot prospective case series using the Liberi exergame for children with CP. Over the first year of development of the exergame, researchers evaluated adjustments that enable participants to power up the videogame via pedaling. The results of the study were published in the journal Developmental Neurorehabilitation. Though focused on cardiovascular outcomes, and exercise as a means of potentially countering the loss of muscular strength and fitness among maturing teens with CP, the report also notes social benefits of the experimental game. Connected via Internet chat and booking multiplayer dates via Facebook made teens in the study feel less isolated. Read More



The GRAND NCE (Graphics, Animation and New Media / Graphisme, animation et nouveaux médias NCE Inc.) is Canada’s largest digital media research network and knowledge mobilization engine with the goal of improving the quality of life of all Canadians and maintaining Canada’s role as a significant player in the global digital economy. Launched in 2009 through the federally funded Networks of Centres of Excellence program, GRAND addresses complex issues in digital media through receptor-driven interdisciplinary research, training, partnerships, and policies, as well as through the commercial development of emerging research technologies and innovation.


Spencer Rose

About NeuroDevNet NCE

NeuroDevNet is a highly interactive Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE) in Canada whose vision is to accelerate the pace of understanding brain development and the causes of neurodevelopmental deficits, as well as to facilitate the translation of this research into best care. NeuroDevNet was established in 2009, with an initial focus on research into early detection and etiology of three neurodevelopmental disorders: autism spectrum disorder (ASD), fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), and cerebral palsy (CP).