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A new set of standards for neurological and behavioral testing could make clinical research faster, cheaper and more accurate in subjects of all ages.
On Sept. 10 and 11, Prof. Richard Gershon will unveil the NIH Toolbox for Assessment of Behavioral and Neurological function to hundreds of researchers at a National Institutes of Health conference in Bethesda, Md. He and colleagues plan to make the resource available to the broader research community later this month.
The test model reduces the number of questions and time required for research study participants by up to 90 percent. It’s designed to cut right to the core of a participant’s cognitive level and eliminate the kind of questioning he or she doesn’t need.
Many of these tests will be completed through a “computer adaptive testing” model, which Gershon specializes in. In this scenario, if a third grader gets a computerized adaptive version of a vocabulary test, the first question will be at the third-grade level. If the student gets it right, the next will come at a 3.5 level until the computer identifies what the student can or can’t handle.
“With the computer we cut to what we need to measure in each individual person,” said Gershon in the press release. “We zero in on that person’s individual level of functioning and don’t waste their time asking questions far above or below their ability.”
Gershon, an associate professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, has spent the past six years developing the test. He led an NIH-funded study analyzing the research of 235 scientists from around the world so he could develop a common set of standards for neurological and behavioral health.
His new methodology yields other benefits besides the shorter testing time. The tests are royalty free, which makes them less expensive to administer. And people with a basic college education can administer them, eliminating the requirement for Ph.D.-level candidates.
Testing measures include several cognition areas, such as smell, motor functioning, vision, hearing and emotional health.
The tests will be employed to measure health and dysfunction through people’s lifecycles, which cover ages 3 to 85. This lifetime continuum will help scientists identify where problems begin to emerge in life and the causes of these problems. Researchers have measured a sample of 5,000 English- and Spanish-speaking people of various races and every age throughout the country to develop parameters for the continuum.
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