Intel, Michael J. Fox Foundation start smartwatch study to track Parkinson's patients

Michael J. Fox--Courtesy of the Michael J. Fox Foundation

Wearable med tech can seem like just an abstract concept as the myriad possibilities are bandied about across a number of industries. But a couple of major players are making moves to get wearable med tech a bit closer to reality. Intel has partnered with the Michael J. Fox Foundation to collect data via smartwatches on Parkinson's disease patients, tracking the progression of disease.

The collaborators will conduct a multiphase study to monitor patient symptoms. Ultimately, the idea is to "capture and objectively measure patients' actual experience of disease, with unprecedented implications for Parkinson's drug development, diagnosis and treatment," Todd Sherer, CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF), said in a statement.

The research is expected to collect and analyze data from thousands of Parkinson's patients including slowness of movement, tremor and sleep quality. These could be examined as part of an overall picture of the clinical progression of Parkinson's, its relationship to molecular changes and its response to drug interventions.

MJFF and Intel ($INTC) already conducted a pilot study earlier this year to evaluate the usability and accuracy of wearable devices for tracking patients and collecting data. In the study, 16 Parkinson's patients and 9 control volunteers wore the devices for four days continuously and during two clinical visits.

The partners also plan to launch a mobile app to enable patients to report symptoms and medication.

The wearables produce an enormous volume of data, more than 300 observations per second. Intel has developed a big data analytics platform to collect, store and manage it. There could be even more data points to factor in as the project progresses; the platform can also store other kinds of data including patient, genomic and clinical trial information.

The device itself is a smartwatch made by Pebble Technology, The Wall Street Journal reports.

"The variability in Parkinson's symptoms creates unique challenges in monitoring progression of the disease," Diane Bryant, SVP and General Manager of Intel's Data Center Group, said in a statement. "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."

As a leading patient advocacy organization successfully driving and funding a number of research efforts, MJFF's efforts with Intel are likely to be watched closely by biopharma, medical device and technology stakeholders.

Big data projects are nothing new for MJFF; in 2010 it launched the Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI) that provides publicly available deidentified data and biological samples on patients from its sponsored studies. The data includes patients with a Parkinson's-implicated mutation in their LRRK2 gene, and scientists have downloaded PPMI data more than 235,000 times.

- here is The Wall Street Journal story and blog on the partnership (sub. req.)
- and the release from Intel as well as the MJFF blog
- the story was also picked up by Reuters

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