Intel partners with Michael J. Fox Foundation for wearables study on Parkinson's

By Aditi Pai
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Parkinson's Intel Michael J Fox FoundationIntel has partnered with the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF), a nonprofit organization focused on Parkinson's disease research, to study symptom patterns in Parkinson's patients.

During the multiphase research study, patients will monitor their symptoms with wearable devices and researchers will use a big data analytics platform to then analyze the information gathered.

There is currently no test to diagnose Parkinson's disease, Intel explains in a presentation included in the press release. Instead people who have the disease usually visit multiple doctors and wait several years before they get an accurate diagnosis.

"The variability in Parkinson's symptoms creates unique challenges in monitoring progression of the disease," Diane Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Group said in a statement. "Emerging technologies can not only create a new paradigm for measurement of Parkinson's, but as more data is made available to the medical community, it may also point to currently unidentified features of the disease that could lead to new areas of research."

Symptoms that the researchers are interested in measuring include slowness of movement, tremor, balance, gait, and sleep quality. Ideally, participants will wear the devices 24 hours a day and seven days a week to maximize the number of readings researchers will receive. Creating correlations between these symptoms could help researchers understand the progression of the neurodegenerative disease and also help them track the disease's relationship with molecular changes, Intel explains.

This is the second study that Intel and MJFF have partnered on this year. The first study analyzed whether it would be feasible to use wearable devices in a trial and whether the data would be accurate. That trial had 16 Parkinson's patients and nine control volunteers who wore devices continuously over four days and during two visits to a clinic.

Intel did not explain which wearables would be used in the trial, but the company has experience working with wearable device companies. In March 2014, Intel acquired activity tracker maker Basis Science.

MJFF has been working on data-focused Parkinson's research for a few years now. In May 2013, the organization launched a challenge to explore how data sourced from mobile phones and analyzed with machine learning algorithms can help improve research into Parkinson’s.

At the time an entrepreneur donated data to MJFF from a trial he conducted. In the trial of 16 individuals — nine patients and seven control individuals -- the entrepreneur studied data from the participants' smartphones for 8 weeks. Without a statistician on staff, MJFF launched a challenge in which teams submitted models that could use the data to identify the Parkinson’s patients from the control group and identify what stage of the disease users were in.

The data was collected in the background by the phones and included movement data from the built-in accelerometer, data about the user’s tone of voice, how much the phone was turned on and used, data from the built-in compass and GPS, and an ambient light sensor. One of the earliest symptoms of Parkinson’s is tremors, which could be detected either from voice or movement.