For one young innovator it came from a character in a popular animated movie – an automated robot that could monitor and immediately diagnose medical conditions. This curious source of inspiration has now led to an award-winning piece of research involving artificial intelligence, machine learning, and a mobile app that can differentiate between people with and without Parkinson’s.
In today’s post, we will discuss this interesting unpublished research from an inspiring individual, who is trying to help us better diagnose and monitor Parkinson’s.
It is the story of a boy named Hiro who goes on an adventure with a robot called Baymax.
Baymax is a personal healthcare companion that is designed to diagnose and treat medical conditions instantly.
After watching the movie Big Hero 6, Shreya Ramesh became fascinated with the idea of the character Baymax. She began wondering how a machine could be made to be smart enough to analyse the medical conditions, make a diagnosis, and then offer remedies.
So she began reading a great deal about machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies. Then she collected a large data set of information from people with and without Parkinson’s for analysis.
Self tracking/monitoring has become a popular habit for the general population with the introduction of products like Fitbit and Apple watch.
It is particularly useful for groups like the Parkinson’s community though, who are tired of having just one hour per year of assessments with their neurologist.
In today’s post, we will look at some new tracking/monitoring technologies that are being developed that could have important implications for not only how we assess Parkinson’s disease, but also for how we treat it.
I have recently finished reading ‘Homo Deus‘ by Yuval Noah Harari – the excellent follow-up to his previous book ‘Sapiens‘ (which is an absolute MUST READ!). The more recent book provides an utterly fascinating explanation of how we have come to be where we will be in the future (if that makes any sense).
In the final few chapters, Harari discusses many of the technologies that are currently under development which will change the world we live in (with a lot of interesting and cautionary sections on artificial intelligence – the machines that will know vastly more about us than we know about ourselves).
Of particular interest in this part of the book was a section on the Google-Novartis smart lens.
What is the Google-Novartis smart lens?
In 2014, a company called Alcon, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Novartis formed a collaboration with the Google offshoot Verily Life Sciences that would focus on developing smart lens.
The initial project is rather ambitious: develop and take to the clinic a glucose-sensing contact lens for people with diabetes. The idea has been particularly championed by Google founder Sergey Brin (a prominent figure within the Parkinson’s community with his significant contributions to Parkinson’s research each year).
People with diabetes have to keep pricking their finger over the course of a day in order to check the levels of insulin in their blood. A less laborious approach would be welcomed by the diabetic world (an estimated 415 million people living with diabetes in the world).
In Silicon valley (California), everyone is always looking for the “next killer app” – the piece of software (or application) that is going to change the world. The revolutionary next step that will solve all of our problems.
The title of today’s post is a play on the words ‘killer app’, but the ‘app’ part doesn’t refer to the word application. Rather it relates to the Alzheimer’s disease-related protein Amyloid Precursor Protein (or APP). Recently new research has been published suggesting that APP is interacting with a Parkinson’s disease-related protein called Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (or LRRK2).
The outcome of that interaction can have negative consequences though.
In today’s post we will discuss what is known about both proteins, what the new research suggests and what it could mean for Parkinson’s disease.
In the mid 1980’s James Leverenz and Mark Sumi of the University of Washington School of Medicine (Seattle) made a curious observation.
After noting the high number of people with Alzheimer’s disease that often displayed some of the clinical features of Parkinson’s disease, they decided to examined the postmortem brains of 40 people who had passed away with pathologically confirmed Alzheimer’s disease – that is, an analysis of their brains confirmed that they had Alzheimer’s.
What the two researchers found shocked them:
Title: Parkinson’s disease in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Authors: Leverenz J, Sumi SM. Journal: Arch Neurol. 1986 Jul;43(7):662-4. PMID:3729742
Of the 40 Alzheimer’s disease brains that they looked at nearly half of them (18 cases) had either dopamine cell loss or Lewy bodies – the characteristic features of Parkinsonian brain – in a region called the substantia nigra (where the dopamine neurons are located). They next went back and reviewed the clinical records of these cases and found that rigidity, with or without tremor, had been reported in 13 of those patients. According to their analysis 11 of those patients had the pathologic changes that warranted a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
And the most surprising aspect of this research report: Almost all of the follow up studies, conducted by independent investigators found exactly the same thing!
It is now generally agreed by neuropathologists (the folks who analyse sections of brain for a living) that 20% to 50% of cases of Alzheimer’s disease have the characteristic round, cellular inclusions that we call Lewy bodies which are typically associated with Parkinson disease. In fact, in one analysis of 145 Alzheimer’s brains, 88 (that is 60%!) had chemically verified Lewy bodies (Click here to read more about that study).
A lewy body (brown with a black arrow) inside a cell. Source: Cure Dementia
Oh, and if you are wondering whether this is just a one way street, the answer is “No sir, this phenomenon works both ways”: the features of the Alzheimer’s brain (such as the clustering of a protein called beta-amyloid) are also found in many cases of pathologically confirmed Parkinson’s disease (Click here and here to read more about this).
So what are you saying? Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are the same thing???
We live in an increasingly interconnected technological world.
One can chose to embrace it or ignore it, but I don’t think anyone can do anything to stop it – the masses seem to desire it.
The benefits of all this technology are many, however, for people with Parkinson’s disease. In today’s post we will look at some of the ways wearable technology can be used to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease.
The great Albert Einstein once said that he feared “the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots”.
While there are certainly many examples of this situation playing out in our modern society today, the quote misses the mark with regards to the application and benefits of such technology.
For example, people with Parkinson’s disease can now communicate with people in the Parkinson’s community (like ourselves) from anywhere the world. They can reach out and share not only their experiences, but also what treatments and remedies have worked for them.
And then there are the other less obvious applications of an interconnected world:
A schematic illustrating the limited monitoring of Parkinson’s. Source: Riggare
On her fantastic blog, engineer and ‘proud mother’ Sara Riggare posted the image above to illustrate the ridiculous current situation regarding the monitoring of Parkinson’s disease. In 2014, she spent 8,765 hours in self care, applying her own knowledge and experience to managing her Parkinson’s disease (8,765 being the number of hours in a year) and had just 1 hour with her physician.
The schematic perfectly illustrates perfectly how little monitoring people with Parkinson’s receive in the standard healthcare system.
People like Sara, however, are taking matters into their own hands. She has become an enthusiastic proponent of ‘self tracking’:
Self tracking represents a fantastic opportunity not only for people with Parkinson’s disease to track their progress, but also for researchers to build up large databases of information relating to the disease from which new theories/hypotheses/treatment approaches could be generated.
And this is possible on a global scale, only because we are a generation of idiots living in a fully interconnected world.
Recently the technology company Apple announced that it is working on new devices to help track Parkinson’s disease (Click here and here for more on this). The company already offers ResearchKit – a platform available on their iphone.
Apple, however, is actually coming to this party rather late. The Michael J Fox foundation and computer giant Intel formed a partnership back in 2014 to look at wearable technology (Click here to read more about this).
And there are already dozens of applications that can be used on smart phones and tablets. We have previously discussed one such app from a company called uMotif – Click here to read that post.
In addition, there are other smart phone apps available that readers could try (such as MyTherapyApp) and you can even support new applications as they are being developed (such as Progress Recorder).
What if I don’t have time for entering all the details on the smart phone app?
Not a problem.
Why not just wear a recording sensor? The same way you may wear a piece of jewellery. Simple, easy approach and you can just forget that it is even there.
Would you like an interesting example?
This is Utkarsh Tandon.
He’s a 17 years old student at Cupertino High School. He is also the Founder and CEO of OneRing, an intelligent tool for monitoring Parkinson’s
Yes, you read that correctly – he is just 17 years old. Smart kid, we’ll be watching him.
Why is this technology important?
Until recently out understanding of Parkinson’s has relied entirely on what occurs in the lab and clinic based settings. Now information is being collected 24 hours a day. From sleep quality apps to measuring tremor, all of this technology has several very positive features from the view point of research scientists:
Objective monitoring – rather than subjective measures (eg. clinician’s opinion or subject survey) definitive, replicatable data can be generated.
Continuous monitoring – rather than brief periods of monitoring in an artificial research clinic environment, data can be collected in real world settings on a continuous basis
Data accessibility – rather than pencil and paper collection of results, data can be collected electronically and converted to different formats.
Participant engagement – this included benefits such as getting the community involved with the research, getting feedback about the technology throughout the study, and being able to provide subjects with performance reports on a regular basis.
Is wearable tech only for measuring Parkinson’s disease?
Recently it has also started to aid people with the condition. The best example of this is the story that has most recently captured the attention of the Parkinson’s community here in the UK:
Emma Lawton was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at just 29 years of age. Working with Haiyan Zhang (Director of Innovation at Microsoft Research) and colleagues, a bracelet was created that counteracted the tremor in Emma’s wrist.
It’s a good story.
Other tech is helping to make life easier for people with Parkinson’s disease – just have a look at what LiftWare is doing.
The point of this post was to make readers aware of some of the technological resources that are available to them in this modern age. Using these tools, we can quickly collect a vast amount of information regarding all aspects of life for people with Parkinson’s disease. And it also offers folks the opportunity to get involved with research indirectly (if they have a fear of university hospitals!).
There is also another element to all of this recording of information about Parkinson’s disease that is not immediately apparent: we are potentially (and hopefully) the last generations of human being that will be affected by Parkinson’s disease. If current research efforts allow us to block or dramatically slow the condition in the near future, there may not be a disease for our descendants to worry about. While this is a very worthy goal, there is also a responsibility on the current generation to record, document and learn as much as we can about the condition so that those future generations will have information at hand regarding a forgotten medical condition.
Some folks are already doing this in their own creative ways. For example, we recommend all readers subscribe to PD365 – a fantastic project in which David Sangster and Emma Lawton (her of the bracelet described above) will be making one short video each day about life with Parkinson’s disease. Raising awareness about the condition and providing intimate insight into basic daily life with PD.
Here is Emma’s first video:
And here is David’s first video:
And this idea is really important.
Consider the great fire of London in 1666. It is estimated that the fire destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the City’s 80,000 inhabitants (Source: Wikipedia), and yet our best sources of information regarding the events of that catastrophe are limited to just a few books like the diary of Samuel Pepys.
This may seem like a silly example, but the premise stands. Given all of the technology we have available today, it would be a great failure for our generation not to be able to provide a thorough source of information regarding this disease.
That said, have a think about getting involved.
The banner for today’s post was sourced from Raconteur