I started in the pharmaceutical industry in 1976, as a neuroscientist with Astra (the Swedish pharmaceutical company) working in Edinburgh. Many of the older drugs used in psychiatry are very sedative, which causes problems with driving, and can also be unpleasant for patients. In order to show that newer drugs were less sedative we needed to study reaction times, hand-eye coordination, memory and so on. One of my early tasks was to put together a test battery, which in those days meant some tests using pencil and paper timed with a stopwatch, and a few using custom-built electronic equipment. Then in the late 70s, we started to see computers that were small and inexpensive enough to dedicate to cognitive testing. I first programmed a cognitive test battery on a Sharp MZ80K, and then moved to the BBC micro. Some of the tests were computer versions of existing tests, others we built from scratch. We soon had a cognitive battery which was used both  for evaluating new drugs and for assessing patients with cognitive impairment, e.g. with dementia.

I was also interested in doing basic research on drugs, evaluating their effects on different aspect of performance in order to better understand their mechanisms of action. This interest has continued to the present day, and has involved a variety of drugs including alcohol. I have also been involved in studying the time course of drug action, and how it relates to the absorption and elimination of the drug in the body.

In the 1980s. my work in the pharmaceutical industry moved from clinical research to data management and statistics, so I learned a lot about running computer networks and supporting users, as well as the processes involved in handling of data from large scale projects. Some of the biggest headaches were in studies using patient diaries, where patients enter their symptoms at home every day. This generated enormous volumes of data, often of uncertain quality. When small handheld computers came in, we rapidly saw their potential as devices for patients to use at home, as the pen interface is an easy and natural one for those who are not computer experts. We set up evaluation studies on the Apple Newton in 1994, and showed that patients liked these devices, and that this was a practical way of getting reliable data from patients' everyday lives (see e.g. Tiplady et al., 1997)

 

Handhelds and tablets also had obvious potential for cognitive testing. They are  very portable, and the touchscreen interface allows ways of programming a wider variety of tasks than a conventional PC. I started programming for the Newton as soon as I could get my hands on the development kit, and soon had my first working application, a letter cancellation task (shown on the left). I demonstrated this at the British Pharmacological Society meeting in December 1993. This was, I believe, the first published report of the use of a pen computer to carry out a psychological test. Since then, I have set up a wide range of tests on the Newton, resulting in a comprehensive, portable, easy to use test battery which is still in use, though the Newton was discontinued in 1998. See Cameron et al. (2001) for a description and validation data.

Times move on, and portable electronics now means PDAs , mobile phones, and increasingly tablets. I am working on all types of platform. They each have their place, with the basic mobile phone having the potential to run large studies at low cost on peoples' own phones, while smartphone/PDAs and tablets are more versatile, in particular having a larger screen and a touchscreen.

The introduction of Android tablets is particularly exciting. The iPad has had most of the rave publicity, but the Android has a number of key advantages, most importantly an open operating system, and availability in a range of sizes, including 5" -7", which is a very useful size for portable testing. It also uses Java , which makes the programming more straightforward. Development work on the Android platform is well-advanced.

 

I still work with personal computers, and I am increasingly interested in the use of the web as a method of both recruiting volunteers and running cognitive tests. There are a couple of current projects already running in this area. PCs, handhelds and mobile phones are very different in many ways, but they are all computers, and all programmed in similar ways. I have been working in the Java language for some while now. This portable language runs on all these platforms, and allows much of the code to be used unchanged on all of them. This makes it much quicker to develop systems, and ensures that they run in a standard way. 

I left AstraZeneca in 2003, and now spend part of my time working with patient diaries, the rest with cognitive testing. Most of this site is about my work with automated cognitive testing, and the services I offer as a consultant. However, all work and no play... so I've also included links to some of the things that fascinate me in my time off.