Developing Molecular-Behavioral Combination Therapies for Chronic Diseases

Epilepsy, cancer, arthritis, pain, depression, migraine, diabetes, cardiovascular and other chronic diseases require long-term medical treatments. Patients and their caregivers face many challenges, including taking prescription medications and management of disease symptoms. To accelerate remission, new therapies consisting of digital health, music, self-care and medications are being developed. Dr. Grzegorz Bulaj, PhD, of the University of Utah, is investigating the integration of digital technologies with pharmacological interventions. Mobile and digital technologies are already transforming healthcare, including video and music games, or mobile apps, becoming medical treatments approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Bulaj has been involved in drug discovery and development of therapies for neurological disorders for over 17 years. In 2011, discussions between him and pediatric oncologist Carol Bruggers, MD, birthed a concept of the Patient Empowerment-Exercise Video Game, with the goal to empower cancer patients during chemotherapy by bridging physical exercise and mental conditioning. The proof-of-concept video game was created as a collaborative project with Entertainment Arts & Engineering faculty and students from the Master Games Studio. A unique aspect of Dr. Bulaj’s research is paving a way to incentivize innovative medical treatments with generic drugs by adding copyrighted art and software. Developing molecular-behavioral combination therapies by means of drug-device combination products has a long-term goal of creating more affordable treatments, which embrace patient self-care.

Dr. Bulaj’s current projects include:

  • Mobile Video Game Therapy for Pediatric Cancer Patients: This collaborative project with the Pediatric Oncology Division and a local nonprofit youth media organization involves creating digital art, game mechanics, and self-care content specifically designed for pediatric oncology patients undergoing chemotherapy. Engaging patients in physical and mental exercises aims to empower cancer patients and to improve therapy outcomes. The development of an exercise-empowerment mobile game therapy prototype is advancing, and it will be clinically tested in patients undergoing anticancer treatments.
  • Streaming Digital Medicine: This project is focused on defining and feasibility of streaming digital medicine for specific chronic disorders, for example music/video streaming for depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders, or mobile VR technologies as “digital analgesics” for the treatment of pain. The long term goal is to create “medicinal media” that deliver non-pharmacological therapies and self-care for neurological, mental and inflammation-based disorders.
  • Combining Music with Mobile Software and Pharmaceutical Drugs for Epilepsy: In this collaborative project with several clinical and pharmacy faculty, we study how the Mozart’s sonata K.448 and other antiseizure music can be incorporated into mobile software to reduce epileptic seizures. We also use preclinical models of epilepsy to study mechanisms by which antiseizure music and anticonvulsant drugs can synergistically reduce seizures.  Dr. Bulaj cofounded Epicadence Public Benefit Corporation to develop and deliver mobile software for epilepsy patients.
  • Molecular-Behavioral Combination Therapies for Chronic Diseases: The molecular-behavioral combination therapies apply to many chronic medical conditions, e.g. epilepsy, cancer, arthritis, pain, bipolar disorder, migraine, depression, cardiovascular, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s disease.  This project focuses on defining clinical, psycho-educational and self-care content that can be streamed via mobile devices, computers, “medicinal” radio and TV channels. 

Dr. Grzegorz Bulaj was born and raised in Poland, and even at the age of ten he was fascinated by molecular complexity of biological structures. As a high school student, he actively participated in academic research focused on microbiology. He pursued his education and research in biochemistry at the University of Wroclaw, where he also received M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees. The immediate proximity of mountains, while he was a ski instructor in Poland, reinforced his choice of Salt Lake City to continue his professional development. At the University of Utah and in a biotechnology startup company, Dr. Bulaj has learned drug discovery and development using marine venomous cone snails as a source of new drug candidates for epilepsy or pain. This experience has led Dr. Bulaj to become a scientific co-founder of a start-up company, NeuroAdjuvants, Inc., specializing in developing first-in-class therapies for neurological disorders. Dr. Bulaj joined faculty in the College of Pharmacy in 2006, has published over 110 peer reviewed papers and book chapters, and is inventor and co-inventor of several issued and pending patents, including “Disease Therapy Game Technology”. In 2015, Dr. Bulaj co-founded Epicadence, Public Benefit Corporation, specializing in development of mobile medical treatments for epilepsy and other chronic diseases. Dr. Bulaj also served as Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholar at the University of Utah, and his passion is to facilitate translational research from laboratory bench to patients. Dr. Bulaj’s motivation to advance this rapidly evolving field is enjoyment of exploring biological and chemical mechanisms, and creating new opportunities to develop medical treatments.

To find inspiration, Dr. Bulaj loves trail running, and has accomplished the Mid-Mountain-Marathon three years in a row. Residing in Salt Lake City, he also enjoys backcountry skiing in the beautiful Wasatch Mountains, or hiking and biking in Utah and in neighboring states. 

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