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U Startup Andamio Games to Develop Youth Substance Abuse App

Youth sitting in group discussion

A University of Minnesota startup company recently announced that it has received a three-year, $1.1 million grant to develop digital education tools for youth dealing with substance abuse.

Andamio Games, launched in summer 2015 and based in Minneapolis, creates interactive games that help educators in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields teach core concepts to students through individualized learning and collaborative problem solving. Through the grant, the company will create an app called BrainAware and evaluate how effective it is in educating those grappling with substance abuse and improving their treatment outcomes.

The funding comes in the form of a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, an organization within the National Institutes of Health (NIH). SBIR grants fund innovative technologies at the early stages, helping support their development into marketable products that can benefit the public.

Adolescents and young adults have a particularly low success rate when it comes to treatment for substance abuse. This is a concerning trend, especially given the nation’s mounting opioid crisis—the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that more than 115 fatal opioid overdoses take place every day in the US. Effectively educating youth with substance abuse problems on the neurobiology of addiction and recovery is an important step in helping to address this epidemic.

“Our goal with BrainAware is to provide a new, engaging learning experience that teaches cutting-edge scientific information about how the brain changes as result of addiction and how it can change through recovery, in a way that appeals to this age group,” said Katrina Schleisman, Ph.D., lead instructional designer for Andamio and principal investigator on the project, in a news release by the company. Schleisman was previously a postdoctoral research associate in neuroscience at the U of M Medical School.

In addition to Andamio Games’s own instructional designers and software engineers, the project will include substance abuse researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and education evaluation experts from the U of M.

An Interactive Way to Learn

Andamio Games’ first game was iNeuron, developed by Janet Dubinsky, Ph.D., neuroscience professor with the U’s Medical School, to make brain science more accessible. Both K–12 classrooms and the general public have used the game to increase understanding of normal nervous system functions, along with drug interactions, mental health, and neurological disorders. iNeuron has been downloaded more than 100,000 times since its release.

The company has also partnered with Sehoya Cotner, Ph.D., professor with the College of Biological Sciences, and Barbara Billington, Ph.D., senior lecturer of STEM education with the College of Education and Human Development, to develop a tablet-based educational game that teaches the fundamentals of cell biology, such as cell respiration and photosynthesis, in a more interactive and engaging way. This app, CellEnergy, is being studied in the classroom setting now and is scheduled for a final release in early 2019.

Kevin Coss

Kevin Coss

Kevin is a communications specialist with the Office of the Vice President for Research.

coss@umn.edu

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