Brain Health at SXSW

Posted on May 22nd, 2015

Charlotte Safos

South by Southwest (SXSW) or “South by” to those in the know, is a series of music, film, and technology festivals that brings 60,000 people to Austin every year. SXSW Interactive, the largest of the festivals, focuses on emerging technology and innovative ideas. Equipped with our DANA medical mobile application, we set off for Austin to join the conversation.

Attendees flocked to our booth to test their brain health using a one-minute version of DANA. After taking the test, participants were given a score based on their performance. Scores went up on a leader board in real-time, and at the end of the conference we awarded the highest ranked contestant a brand new tablet.


Our winner with his brand new tablet!

But what was really exciting about SXSW: we weren’t the only ones talking about brain health; in fact, brain health was a reoccurring theme conference-wide!

As part of SXSW Interactive, Dr. Murali Doraiswamy – WSJ Blogger and Duke University Professor – and Dr. Geoffrey Ling, from DARPA, gave a presentation, “Hacking the Brain: What’s next for NeuroHealth.” Dr. Doraiswamy argued that we need to standardize cognitive testing, and even develop a “brain number” to describe overall brain health. Even better – he gave DANA a shout-out as the first FDA-cleared mobile cognitive assessment tool!

SXSW Gaming had a session highlighting brain health. Dr. Sandy Chapman, founder of the world-class Center for BrainHealth, pointed out that “we know more about the universe than the human brain.” She and colleague Carl Lutz have developed a virtual reality training video game to help individuals on the autism spectrum achieve real-world social and economic independence.

SXSW Sports also engaged in the brain health conversation, hosting a panel entitled “Does Playing Sports Equal Brain Damage?” featuring Ben Utecht, former NFL player; Joanne Gerstner, award-winning sports journalist, and Dr. Jeff Kutcher, founder and director of the University of Michigan’s NeuroSport program. Don’t be too alarmed – the answer to the question is no, playing sports does not equal brain damage. However, playing sports IS a risk factor in regards to brain health. The panelists warned that we must be smart in how we protect the brain, and be diligent in monitoring its functioning. Interestingly, DANA is currently being used as a research tool in a longitudinal study about acute concussion being done at the University of Wisconsin.

Overall, SXSW was as inspirational as it was informative. It was exciting to see brain health being talked about, and we had a blast sharing DANA with people as passionate about technology as we are!

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