Video Games As FDA Approved Medicine With Dr. Adam Gazzaley

Dr. Adam Gazzaley, founder of Akili Interactive joins us to talk about the intersection of molecular and experiential treatments for mental health conditions. Akili is the maker of the first ever video game to be approved by the FDA as a digital therapeutic treatment for a clinical condition. We talked about how Adam and his team figured out how to use video games in this manner, how they got approval to do so and the science that proves a video game can help improve cognitive function. We dig into the future interactions of molecular and experiential medicine and where his revolutionary treatments can take us as we learn to leverage technology to help us get better when it comes to mental health, not tear us down or make us worse which is often how people think of technology these days. In addition to his role as Founder of Akili Interactive, Adam is a co-founder of Jazz Venture Partners, and a professor of Neurology, Psychiatry and Physiology at UCSF. Dr. Adam Gazzaley obtained an M.D. and Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, completed Neurology residency at the University of Pennsylvania, and postdoctoral training at University of California, Berkeley.


  1. Adam Gazzaley joins us to talk about his work in neuroscience and neurology and how he found his way to the startup world and ultimately building the first video game, ever approved by the FDA as a therapeutic treatment (Akili Interactive).
  2. Adam talks about what drew him into the startup world and explains how he really did it out of necessity. The solutions his research was pointing to had not been built and he felt compelled to create what he felt the world needed.
  3. Adam tells the founding story of Akili Interactive, a therapeutic closed-loop video game company. Akili recently obtained FDA approval for their prescription video game for treating mental health differences. EndeavorRx is the name of the gaming platform that was approved by the FDA in June of 2020.  Cleared by the FDA as a class 2 medical device to treat children with ADHD.
  4. How can a video game be a therapeutic?
    Adam explains how experiences have been used to change our brain for thousands of years and how video games are just another experience.  Because video game experiences are highly adaptable, and because we now have technology that allows us to measure how the brain is reacting to experiences, we can craft experiences in real time to target different cognitive functions.Designing and developing a video game as medicine is an entire process that involves understanding all the complexities of game mechanics, art, music, the story, etc. and combine that with the targeting of specific neural systems.  Then there’s the Long slow validation process that takes a lot of time, people, money, etc.  This took a decade to accomplish.
  5. Is this the first time the FDA has approved a video game as digital therapeutics?
    Yes, this is the first video game of any kind to be approved for clinical treatment by the FDA.
  6. Adam explained how a video game actually helps an individual improve their attention and focus. It works by challenging an individual to focus their attention on a goal, then rapidly move their attention to other goals.  Adam and his team found this leads to benefits that could be quantified and later proved that some of those improvements were in abilities not even directly challenged in the game.
  7. We talked about the future, and where this technology can go. Adam explains that he is incredibly optimistic about a future where our technology is not tearing us down or being used to make us lazy or offload us of things that are natural to us, but to really enhance us.
  8. Adam is currently doing research on the intersection of molecular and experiential treatments with a specific focus on psychedelics. He is studying ways to measure the impact of the experience (the set and setting) in which psychedelic treatments are administered.  He is using multi-modal biosensing during treatment sessions to understand the impact of the treatment and further develop more personalized and precise treatment plans for individuals.