January 3 2017
R&D

Gaming Gives Capital Region’s NIH Award Haul a Boost

With the help of its software gaming industry, the Capital Region received 9.5 percent more in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding last fiscal year, according to a Center for Economic Growth (CEG) analysis of new data from the federal agency.

In fiscal 2016, Capital Region academic institutions, companies and nonprofits received 136 NIH Awards totaling $54 million. The uptick in spending was largely driven by new or increased NIH funding awarded to the Albany Medical College (up $2.95 million to $11.2 million), the New York Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center (up $2.77 million to $11.6 million) and the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, which appeared on the list of awardees for the first time with $1.43 million in funding, following its spinoff from the University at Albany in 2014.

Gaming in Health

Two Capital Region software gaming firms also appeared on the fiscal 2016 list of NIH awardees, together receiving $599,999. One was 1st Playable Productions in Troy, which received one award from NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) and another from the NIH National Office of the Director (OD), totaling $374,999. The other was My Music Machines in Scotia, which received an award from the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute (NHLBI) for $225,000. This firm was founded by two College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering graduate students. 

1st Playable Productions’ NIA project was for a neuro-exergame to mitigate cognitive decline in later life. For this project, the firm and Union College would “develop a commercializable product combining physical exercise and cognitive activities through interactive gaming on a stationary bicycle to help prevent cognitive decline and dementia in older adults,” an NIH abstract states. The neuro-exergame, called Memory Lane, would utilize the Interactive Physical and Cognitive Exercise System (iPACES) developed by Union’s Healthy Aging and Neuropsychology Lab, a pioneering system that combines physical and cognitive interventions.

1st Playable Productions’ OD project involved the Playscope, an Interactive Biotics Game Kit – Learning life sciences by building, playing and inquiring. This project’s abstract states the firm and Stanford University would “develop a commercialized version of biotic games; a novel medium for formal and informal biology education that allows student users to playfully control the behavior of living cells. The Playscope is an interactive biotics gaming kit designed to engage middle and high school students in the sciences by combining phone based gaming with traditional science microscopy.”

My Music Machines’ funding was for the development of an interactive respiratory therapy through music and gaming. The abstract for the NHBLI project states, “We aim to improve patient compliance by adding a gaming component to provide users with an engaging incentive to adhere to their prescribed therapy routine. This work builds on our invention of the Jamboxx: a hands free breath controlled digital musical instrument designed for accessibility by users with quadriplegia or other motor neuron diseases.”

Outside of the health tech arena, the Capital Region is home to several other gaming companies, such as Ilium, a Troy firm that recently showed off its makes immersive gun controllers for virtual reality at CEG’s VentureB series. The region’s best known gaming developers are the Bala brothers, Guha and Karthik, the team behind Vicarious Visions and its Guitar Hero and Hudson Hawk franchises. The Balas last year launched a new venture in Troy called Velan Studios and the Times Union recently reported their next mission is to “turn Troy into a world-class hub of the exploding game industry.”

Awardees and Awarding Institutes and Centers

In fiscal 2016, the Capital Region’s top five NIH awardees by dollar value were the Wadsworth Center, Albany Medical College, University at Albany, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Kitware, a Clifton Park software firm. These five entities accounted for 77.9 percent of the funding awarded to the region. 

The NIH institutes and centers (ICs) that awarded the most funding in the region were the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID, $11 million), the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS, $8.6 million), the NHLBI ($6.7 million), the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB, $5.3 million) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS, $4.3 million). The largest year-over local IC allocation increases by percentage came from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD, up 345.2 percent to $2 million), the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK, up 109.5 percent to $722,981) and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD, up 100.9 percent to $2.3 million.

Population Health Technology Cluster

Biotechnology and biomedical research, which CEG has long supported through its Bioconnex partnership, are powerful engines for the Capital Region’s economy. With gaming firms joining other local software firms in receiving NIH funding, the region has taken a step closer to forming the population health technology cluster envision by Capital 20.20. This five-year, multi-pronged plan for the region’s economic future calls for the creation of a consortium of the region’s healthcare providers and payors, government programs, universities and technology companies to develop high-tech, data-driven models that improve patient care and reduce costs through the development and deployment of technology.

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For more information, contact CEG Director of Research and Communications James Schlett at jamess@ceg.org. Don’t miss these insights into the trends that are shaping the Capital Region’s economy. Sign up for CEG’s e-news.

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