Tech titan Intel Corp. recently announced that it has partnered with the Michael J. Fox Foundation to conduct a large, multi-phase study of Parkinson’s disease patients usingwearable devices, specifically its own smartwatch and an accompanying mobile app. The data collected would be stored in an open platform from which scientists and researchers can glean insights into the debilitating neurodegenerative disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system caused by low dopamine levels in the brain which causes tremors, stiffness, gait and movement difficulties, speech changes and cognitive decline. Statistics reveal that a million people in the U.S., over 220,000 in the U.K., and nearly 10,000 in the UAE have the disease. Worldwide, some 5 million people are known to be suffering from Parkinson’s.
Intel’s Basis division is developing a smartwatch which will be used to monitor patients, and will be capable of collecting 1 GB of clinical data each day for care providers and researchers to pore over, according to a report from Silicon Republic.
The gadget had already been tested by Intel’s scientists earlier this year on 16 Parkinson’s patients and nine control subjects over the course of four days, according to the BBC. Intel said it is currently developing algorithms for the smartwatch to track sleeping patterns and body movement symptoms. The MJFF said in a statement that the device can capture 300 observations per second. Intel said that it will be soon release the accompanying mobile app for patients to track their own symptoms, medications, and their eating and sleeping habits.
“The researchers are dying for the insight,” Ronald Kasabian, general manager of big data solutions at Intel, told the BBC. The ability to see what is happening to the patient on a minute-by-minute, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year basis – the tremors, the sleep habits – to see that in real time will be one of the most eye-opening opportunities.”
Intel said their app would not only work with their own recently-acquired Basis smartwatch technology but with an array of wearable devices from other manufacturers as well.
“As more of these devices hit the market, we can collect objective measurements and determine the efficacy of new therapeutics,” Sohini Chowdhury, a senior vice president for research partnerships at the foundation, told Reuters.
The collected data would be anonymized and stored in an open system where researchers can analyze information from large groups of patients in clinical trials, including patients in remote locations or staying at home who are usually excluded from such studies.
“We’re exploring how to pull data out of devices in real-time,” Kasabian told Reuters. “We can mine data to improve research, and better understand the behaviors and progression of the disease.”
Michael J. Fox, the movie actor of “Back to the Future” fame, publicly revealed that he has Parkinson’s in 1998, and established his eponymous foundation in 2000.
“The answers are within us,” Fox told USA Today. “We just need to find a way to let people into our brains both literally and figuratively to help us figure this out.”
According to Diane Bryant, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Intel’s Data Center Group, former company Chief Executive Andrew Grove, who also has Parkinson’s, initiated the deal with Fox’s foundation.
In its statement, the foundation said existing clinical exams and research trials are “outdated methods used only at periodic appointments [that] tell far from the whole story. Parkinson’s is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week disease. Patients and their doctors need a better way to monitor PD, and researchers need a more objective way to measure the effect of new drugs. The solution might come through the use of wearable devices such as smartwatches.”
Intel is the latest major player in the technology sector to focus on health tracking wearables, smartwatches and big data platforms. Back in May, Samsung announced itsSimband smartwatch and SAMI device platform. In June, Google launched its Google Fithealth and fitness tracking service. During the same month, Apple announced itsHealthKit app for its upcoming iOS 8, designed to aggregate health data from third-party wearables. Meanwhile, Microsoft and Apple are also expected to soon announce their own smartwatches laden with biometric sensors.