Intel Uses Wearables And Big Data To Help Study Parkinson’s

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) has announced a partnership with Intel which will see the chipmaker provide Big Data tools to advance the research into this disease and hopefully, help find a cure.

MJFF has already competed trials with 25 patients in the US and Israel, using smartwatches to collect up to a gigabyte of information per patient, per day. This wealth of data is being analysed using a purpose-built cloud platform based on Intel hardware.

Andy Grove, the third employee hired by Intel and the company’s former CEO, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 14 years ago and the company has been active in this field ever since.

“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,” said Diane Bryant, SVP and GM of Intel’s Data Centre Group, during a webcast on Wednesday evening.

Modern medicine

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that affects one in a hundred people aged over 60. It can cause shaking, slowness of movement and difficulty with walking, with later stages resulting in behavioural problems and dementia.

Despite being so widespread, the disease is notoriously hard to diagnose and study: Todd Sherer, CEO of MJFF, the world’s largest non-profit sponsor of Parkinson’s research, said the assessment tools have barely changed in the 200 years since it was first described by Dr James Parkinson. Wearable sensors and Big Data analytics could change this.

The first stage of the project involves smartwatches that monitor symptoms like slowness of movement, tremors and sleep quality, replacing hand-written journals that were used in the past. Even though this is a major improvement for patients, Sherer says collecting the data isn’t the real challenge – it’s how to make sense of it. This is where Intel and its Big Data expertise come into play.

After patient data is captured with wearable devices, it gets stored in the cloud and processed using Cloudera’s distribution of Hadoop framework. Intel’s analytics platform is able to detect patterns in this information, and evaluate it against the cellular profiles of Parkinson’s disease pathology documented over the past 20 years.

It is hoped that this work will enable researchers to assemble a better picture of the clinical progression of Parkinson’s and track its relationship to molecular changes. This, in turn, could allow pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs to combat the onset of the disease.

Intel and MJFF have already completed trials with 25 patients, during which the platform collected 1GB of data per patient per day.

“I pay attention to my Parkinson’s, but it’s not everything I am all the time. The wearables did that monitoring for me in a way I didn’t even notice, and the study allowed me to take an active role in the process for developing a cure,” said Bret Parker, 46-year old resident of New York who is living with Parkinson’s and participated in the study.

Later this year, Intel and MJFF plan to launch a new mobile application that will enable patients to report their medication intake as well as how they are feeling. In the future, the analytics platform will incorporate all patient medical and genomics data, helping deliver results sooner. This research will then be shared with the greater Parkinson’s community of physicians and scientists.

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Max Smolaks

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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