30 years on CANTAB inventors herald the dawn of a new era in neuroscience

Three decades ago two emerging neuroscientists, Barbara Sahakian and Trevor Robbins from University of Cambridge received a grant from The Wellcome Trust to fund their development of the Cambridge Neuropsychological Automated Test Battery or CANTAB™. Delegates to CANTAB 30, a special conference held recently at the University of Cambridge to mark 30 years of expert cognitive neuroscience, heard how CANTAB™, has fundamentally changed the way brain function is measured and understood, leading to the dawn of a new era in neuroscience.

Fittingly it was John Williams, Head of Neuroscience at The Wellcome Trust, who commented in his opening address commented that funding CANTAB all those years ago was "one of our best decisions." Since its inception some 2,000 research studies have been published worldwide using CANTAB, which is now cited in over 160,000 scientific papers. CANTAB products are today used to enhance neuroscience research, accelerate the development of safe and effective therapeutics and improve cognitive health and wellbeing of the general population, particularly those at risk of dementia, with its application for healthcare settings.

More than 150 thought leaders from academia and industry heard now Professors Barbara Sahakian and Trevor Robbins reaffirm their belief that accurate cognitive assessment holds the key to the successful development of novel treatments in areas such as Alzheimer’s disease, depression, ADHD and schizophrenia. In addition to presentations by eminent researchers from around the world describing the value of the cognitive assessments to their work, the latest version of the software, CANTAB Connect, was demonstrated to showcase how cloud-computing can now enable the collection of reliable global data using repeatable measures at scale for the first time.  

The advent of CANTAB Connect cloud assessments begins a new era in neuroscientific research and pharmaceutical development. Large scale research projects can now sensitively measuring cognition over time and gather more data than ever previously possible.

CANTAB touchscreen tests originally provided a computerized alternative to subjective traditional pen and paper tests. Over the past 30 years the platform has been developed to the point where the software is cloud-based and available on consumer electronics such as iPads. This brings the immense benefit of making standardized testing possible in large multi-national studies where the tests can be administered to people on other sides of the world objectively and consistently with data instantly scored and accessible online.

In her address Professor Sahakian took time to point out the key role CANTAB technologies are playing in accelerating dementia research in particular: “With growing awareness of the scale of the dementia challenge facing society, cognitive assessments have now reached the levels of precision and accessibility required to identify and monitor those at risk during the early stages of the disease. This is essential to developing successful therapeutic intervention across all neurological diseases and disorders.” 

This was echoed by Dr Steven Powell, Chief Operating Officer of Cambridge Cognition: "The past 30 years will become known as the period when we could first objectively measure the performance of the human brain, laying the foundation for a new era of neuroscientific discovery as we work collectively to combat neurological diseases and improve cognitive health and wellbeing for our future generations." 

If the last three decades saw the first steps in mapping and measuring functions of the brain, with the advances in technology displayed at CANTAB 30, the decades to come will likely see the field of neuroscience in both research and clinical settings advance exponentially over the next decade.

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