Actor Michael J Fox's Parkinson's disease research foundation is teaming up with Intel to fight the degenerative neurological disorder using wearable technology and big data, which has the potential to completely transform Parkinson's research.
The Back To The Future actor has suffered from Parkinson's Disease since 1991 and set up the non-profit Michael J Fox Foundation in 2000 with the goal of raising funds to help eliminate the disorder. The foundation has now granted over $450m (£270m) to researchers worldwide.
At the moment, doctors only evaluate patients with Parkinson's at periodic appointments, which many believe is not a good enough way to monitor a disease that is a "24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week disease", according to the foundation.
"Nearly 200 years after Parkinson's disease was first described by Dr James Parkinson in 1817, we are still subjectively measuring Parkinson's disease largely the same way doctors did then," said Todd Sherer, the CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation.
"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."
Earlier this year, the foundation launched a study with Intel to evaluate three wearable devices and see how well they were able to track measurable features of Parkinson's like slowness and frequency of movement.
The test evaluated both participants suffering from Parkinson's and those who did not who wore the devices for several years, and Intel's engineers are now analysing the data from the devices and developing algorithms to measure symptoms and how the disease progresses.
Intel acquired Basis Science, a health and wellness wearable tech company in March.The Basis line of smart watches are the most advanced health trackers in the industry, able to track heart rate patterns and body movement, as well as monitoring perspiration and skin temperature.
The algorithms will be put into a companion mobile app that can analyse data from patients' movements as they wear Intel's Basis smart watches, which can capture up to 300 observations a second, as well as letting patients input self-reported information about medication intake and mood – a digital version of patient diaries.
"The platform supports an analytics application developed by Intel to process and detect changes in the data in real time," Ron Kasabian, general manager of Intel's Big Data Solutions group, told Reuters.
"By detecting anomalies and changes in sensor and other data, the platform can provide researchers with a way to measure the progression of the disease objectively."
The Michael J Fox Foundation will be funding the clinical trials and is now recruiting across the US for volunteers, both people with Parkinson's disease and people who do not have the condition, to wear the smart watches from this autumn onwards.
"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."