News Feature | August 15, 2014

New Collaboration Explores Wearable Devices For Parkinson's Research

By Suzanne Hodsden

The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) and Intel announced a collaboration which would design wearable devices capable of monitoring the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). This information would then be uploaded and stored in the cloud so it would be widely available to researchers.

Parkinson’s is a chronic neurological disorder which inhibits movement and motor skills and can cause changes in cognition and mood.  There are approximately 60,000 new cases of PD diagnosed per year.

While there is no cure for the disorder at this time, several pharmaceutical and surgical options are available to help alleviate motor symptoms. Evaluating the efficacy of these methods has traditionally been left to the patients who report to doctors what symptoms they experience, when, and for how long. However, these results are subject to human error. Therefore, this new collaboration hopes to make drastic improvements to data collection and exponentially increase participation in clinical trials.

Dr. Todd Sherer, CEO of MJFF has high hopes for the technology. "Data science and wearable computing hold the potential to transform our ability to capture and objectively measure patients' actual experience of disease, with unprecedented implications for Parkinson's drug development, diagnosis, and treatment."

According to the statement released by Intel, the technologies’ potential to collect data from thousands of individuals simultaneously will provide a clearer picture of PD’s clinical progression and enable researchers to make correlations between motor symptoms and molecular changes. Not only will experts better understand the disease, they will possess better methods of evaluating existing and future treatments.

Parkinson’s Disease 2014, a conference which convened in January, outlined the goals of current and ongoing PD research and announced many new and exciting possibilities in the prevention, care, and cure of this disease made possible by the President’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative. NINDS  plans to use many of the suggestions discussed at the conference when making decisions over which new research to fund.

It remains to be seen what role these devices might play in this new research.

Trials aimed at fine-tuning the technology and its use in pharma research are expected to begin this year, and the MJFF expressed their commitment to raising the necessary funds to provide these devices to patients willing to participate.

As Michael J. Fox told USA Today, “The answers are within us. We just need to find a way to let people into our brains both literally and figuratively to help us figure this out.”