A screenshot of the Neuroblox interface. The process to diagnose...

A screenshot of the Neuroblox interface. The process to diagnose a patient using Neuroblox starts with a scan of an individual’s brain and becomes a roadmap for a personalized course of treatment, providing a greater understanding of the circuits tied to their brain.  Credit: Neuroblox

A Stony Brook University software tool that will let researchers map the brain's circuitry and share findings via crowdsourcing has won funding from a philanthropy backed by the founder of online gaming platform Roblox Corp.

The Baszucki Group, a nonprofit overseen by Roblox chief executive David Baszucki and his wife, author Jan Ellison Baszucki, is donating $3.2 million to develop the software, dubbed Neuroblox.

The charity is providing an additional $3 million to create the Baszucki endowed chair for metabolic neuroscience at the university.

The initial holder of the chair will be Lilianne "Lily" Mujica-Parodi, a Stony Brook biomedical engineering professor who is spearheading the creation of Neuroblox.

"One of the key advantages of Neuroblox is it would allow researchers to work with an artificial brain," Mujica-Parodi said. This would allow them to test alternative hypotheses at once, an alternative to the trial-and-error method widely used to treat brain disorders.

Roblox's simple programming tools have spawned a legion of outside developers who create games on the platform. 

Mujica-Parodi said that crowdsourcing model will be adopted by Neuroblox as it seeks to accelerate research into brain-based disorders.

A podcast in which she discussed her research into brain circuitry and anxiety disorders attracted the attention of the Baszuckis.

David Baszucki, chief executive of online gaming company Roblox Corp....

David Baszucki, chief executive of online gaming company Roblox Corp. and his wife, author Jan Ellison Baszucki, president of their philanthropy, Baszucki Group.  Credit: \Baszucki Group

The Baszuckis credit a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet — commonly called a keto diet — with putting their son's bipolar disorder into remission. 

Jan Ellison Baszucki, president of the Baszucki Group, said in an interview that her son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 19 and tried 29 assorted medications over five years.

"He still wasn't well," she said. "It was a five-year period of profound struggle."

About 2 1/2 years ago, he tried a keto diet and within four months he was symptom-free, Baszucki said. "It was an absolute miracle."

A 2020 study led by Mujica-Parodi found that sharply reducing carbohydrates may prevent or reverse neurobiological changes associated with aging.

By reducing carbohydrates — found in grains, legumes, potatoes and fruit — the body is forced to stop relying on glucose as a fuel. Instead, the body enters a state called ketosis, in which the liver converts fats into ketones, an alternative fuel.

Historically, ketogenic diets have been used to control diabetes and epilepsy.

Keto diets — heavily weighted toward fatty foods — have gained both devotees and critics. Ketosis also can be achieved with other regimens, including intermittent fasting and versions of vegetarian and Mediterranean diets.

Using neuroimaging, Mujica-Parodi's study found that ketones can increase brain activity and stabilize neural networks.

Baszucki said that Neuroblox will be designed to provide insights into a wide range of brain-based disorders.

"It's going to be relevant to Parkinson's and Alzheimer's — anything related to the brain," she said.

Roblox, based in San Mateo, California, has a market capitalization of about $22 billion. It's 3D interactive online games can be accessed on smartphones, tablets, computers, gaming consoles and virtual reality headsets.

The audience for those games are primarily children and teenagers.

On Wednesday, Roblox reported year-over-year revenue for the quarter ended March 31 climbed 22% to $655.3 million, but diluted net loss per share widened to 44 cents from 27 cents. 

In July, the Baszucki Group announced that researchers from James Cook University, The Ohio State University, Stanford University, University of California at San Francisco, and the University of Edinburgh would receive $2 million in grants to study ketogenic treatment for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. 

The interdisciplinary team developing Neuroblox is based on the Stony Brook University campus.

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