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Michael J Fox teams with Intel to use big data and wearables in Parkinson's research

Analysis Will track patient data and improve treatment
Thu Aug 14 2014, 13:03
Michael J Fox teams with Intel to use big data and wearables in Parkinson's research

INTEL HAS PARTNERED with The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) to improve research and treatment for Parkinson's disease through big data analytics and wearable devices.

The collaboration consists of a multi-phase research study using a big data analytics platform that detects patterns in data collected from patients via wearables, which monitor symptoms. Intel claims this will aid researchers and physicians to measure progression of the disease by capturing and objectively measuring patients' actual experiences and thus speed progress of breakthroughs in drug development, diagnosis and treatment.

Affecting about 5 million people worldwide, Parkinson's disease is the second most common nerve degenerative disease in the world. MJFF CEO Todd Sherer said that the major problem in diagnosing and treating patients is that we are still "subjectively measuring" Parkinson's disease in the same way doctors did when it was first described by Dr James Parkinson in 1817.

"One of the main challenges in studying Parkinson's disease is the broad variability between people that have the disease in how they progress and respond to treatment and the actual symptoms that they suffer from," said Sherer. "Because of that variability, one of the challenges we have had is how we go about measuring and monitoring the disease, we are limited in our ability to track the disease in an objective way and we rely on very subjective measurements."

Parkinson's is presently assessed by patients going to a clinic every three to six months and being put through several tests by their doctor, including touching their fingers and tapping their nose to determine the response to medication and the stage of the disease.

Intel wants to track Parkinson's patients using wearables

The partnership with Intel will aim to "do better" with this diagnosis, using technology through wearable sensors to allow doctors to track the symptoms of Parkinson's remotely through a 24/7 process via patient data collection on a large and more accurate scale.

"For nearly two decades, researchers have been refining advanced genomics and proteomics techniques to create increasingly sophisticated cellular profiles of Parkinson's disease pathology," Intel said. "Advances in data collection and analysis now provide the opportunity to expand the value of this wealth of molecular data by correlating it with objective clinical characterisation of the disease for use in drug development."

Intel SVP and GM of the Data Center Group Diane Bryant said that the partnership has only recently become a possibility due to recent industry changes, which have allowed technologies that hadn't existed until now to track proper measurements.

"Big data analytics really hit the scene and became a big industry buzz as recently as 2012 and there's been a few big industry changes which have [now] enabled the data analytics solutions," explained Bryant. "One is [that] the cost of compute and the cost of storage have continued to decline, so it becomes now cost-feasible to actually store massive amounts of data and conduct these massive analytics algorithms against the data base."

Bryant said that the continued reduction for the cost of compute and storage was aided via Intel's dedication to Moore's Law, as well as a big change in the technology environment, which now allows big data analytics to exist.

"The other thing is an investment in the tools and solutions," added Bryant. "The tools are historically complex, the tools in support of them are complex and the costs were high so the industry at large has been investing to drive down the cost of analytics solutions. Now you see the adoption of big data analytics across all industries from retail to smart cities."

The potential to collect and analyse data from thousands of individuals on measurable features of Parkinson's, such as slowness of movement, tremor and sleep quality, will be taken care of by wearable devices alongside specially-developed software applied both to the wearables and linked-up smartphones. Intel said this could enable researchers to assemble a better picture of the clinical progression of Parkinson's and track its relationship to molecular changes.

"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," Bryant explained.

The wearables will gather and transmit objective, experiential data in real time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With this approach, researchers could go from looking at a very small number of data points and burdensome pencil-and-paper patient diaries collected sporadically to analysing hundreds of readings per second from thousands of patients, Intel said. In attaining a critical mass of data to detect patterns, the hope is to make new discoveries.

Bryant explained that the partnership is not just a brilliant opportunity in drug development for Parkinson's but also a "prime opportunity" for the firm and its influence in health care.

"The Health Care industry in general presents a huge opportunity for IT and the deployment of technology and particularly data analytics as applied to health care. When you look at Parkinson's disease, Alzheimers, the use in genomics to find more rapid treatments for cancer, personalised care; there's just countless opportunities in applying technology to create greater and better results in the health care spectrum," she said.

"Our job at Intel is to make sure technology is readily available, cost effective, easy to deploy to tackle these big problems, and health care presents a prime opportunity."

Although a possibility of a cure for Parkinson's has not been discussed by either Intel or the MJFF, the organisations believe their partnership will ultimately result in not only the conception of brand new treatments for the disease, but also other illnesses.

Sherer added, "If we can get very fine-tuned data on small numbers of people early in critical development, where you now get a lot more confidence and move that project forward, this would be a great value to the industry and incredibly accelerate our ability to develop new treatments through people with Parkinson's as well as other diseases."

For more on big data, visit the Intel IT Center. µ


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