Smartphones detecting Parkinson’s
Smartphones have become exceptionally clever within the last five years, but they could reach a whole new level of intelligence thanks to current experiments with specially designed apps. US researchers are testing an application that monitors changes in Parkinson’s disease sufferers, sending data on symptoms to doctors that will help them to treat patients.
Home monitoring for patients
Of course, patients only get a short period of time with their doctor or clinician in which symptoms can be discussed or monitored. But Parkinson’s symptoms can fluctuate and vary, meaning the treatment must vary to remain effective. Medical professionals can’t be with a patient 24/7 to monitor symptoms, so the application – developed by SuchiSaria of Johns Hopkins University – enables patients to do it themselves.
The app asks users to complete five tasks that assess their speech, finger control, gait, balance and reaction time. The results generate a ‘mobile Parkinson’s disease score’, which doctors can use to assess the severity of symptoms. This in turn enables them to adjust the medication accordingly.
Testing the app
Apps such as this require extensive research and development work, and the team at Johns Hopkins recruited 129 patients to complete over 6,000 smartphone assessments. The scoring system ranges from 0-100, with higher numbers signifying more severe symptoms. Tasks were completed by the patients both before and after their daily dose of dopamine, and symptoms varied by an average of 14 points throughout the day.
Gait contributed 33 percent to the total score, with balance and finger tapping each contributing 23 percent. Voice contributed 17 percent, while reaction time accounted for the final 3 percent.
The patients had standard assessments at their local clinics too, the results of which correlated to the app scores. This suggests a positive step forward for tracking diseases such as Parkinson’s, although further testing and modification is required before the app – or a version of it – is put to market.
Taking the app forward
SuchiSaria suggested that a wearable sensor that monitors the impact that exercise and sleep have on symptoms could be a progression of the current app technology. Often with such research, the primary stages are done by universities and funded either by them or by other foundations – in this case, the Michael J Fox Foundation and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
It’s possible, however, for businesses to get involved with technological projects by building on ideas or collaborating with the original team. In such cases, funding becomes available through business grants or R&D tax credits, depending when the funding is required. New businesses can often benefit from start-up business grants, a proportion of which can be used to fund research and development projects.
Either way, a huge amount of time, effort and cost is required to bring these apps into everyday usage. For the time being, the technology remains a future boon to the health service.