Parkinson's diagnostics expand as FDA clears wearable, researchers unveil smartphone app

Global Kinetics' watch, meant to diagnose and monitor Parkinson's disease--Courtesy of Global Kinetics

Researchers are applying the full range of mobile technology to Parkinson's disease diagnostics. This week a pair of new technologies came to the fore, with a wearable device is cleared by FDA and a smartphone app unveiled at the British Science Festival. These come just after the August announcement of a study by the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Intel ($INTC) tracking Parkinson's patients via a smartwatch.

Australian startup Global Kinetics said FDA cleared the first wrist-worn device to provide data to physicians to diagnose and monitor the disease. The idea is that its Personal KinetiGraph technology will provide physicians with the appropriate data to optimize treatment over time.

It can be used to automatically record motion data over a period of up to 10 days. The physician starts getting detailed mobility data within minutes. The device can also alert patients when it's time to take their medication and track when medication is taken to help improve compliance.

"Monitoring changes in a patient's movement symptoms is a critical element in the treatment of Parkinson's and many other movement disorders, but it can be difficult for both patients and healthcare providers to identify and assess changes in movement symptoms effectively," the CEO of Global Kinetics Andrew Maxwell said in a statement. "The Personal KinetiGraph provides clinicians with a clear and accurate assessment of the patient experience outside of office visits and examinations."

Neurologists at the Melbourne-based Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health developed the Personal KinetiGraph to provide a more objective measurement tool for movement disorder symptoms.

Most physicians rely only upon a clinical evaluation in addition to self-reported symptoms to determine Parkinson's treatment, making it difficult to track and manage the chronic, progressive movement disorder that affects as many as 1 million people in the U.S. The motor symptoms of the disease include slowness of movement, rigidity, tremors and postural instability. There is no cure for the disease, but there are treatments to help manage the symptoms.

Another Parkinson's diagnostic tool coming out of Aston University was feted this week at a major British scientific conference. It's an app that uses the microphone and motion detector on a smartphone to provide clinical data.

Current Parkinson's diagnosis isn't precise; up to 20% of people diagnosed with Parkinson's have no evidence of the disease in post-mortem examinations, a BBC story noted.

"Most people who have the disease will never be objectively measured," Dr. Max Little, a mathematical researcher with Aston's Nonlinearity and Complexity Research Group, told the BBC.

He said that the app can assess Parkinson's with up to 99% agreement with neurologist diagnosis in the clinic. It uses a range of active and passive tests of voice, gait and dexterity. Voice change can be an early Parkinson's indicator as the voice can become quieter and tremulous as well as drifting in pitch. The app is currently in a clinical trial of people with and without Parkinson's in 2,500 people through the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

Parkinson's disease has been in the global media spotlight lately, given the reported early diagnosis of Robin Williams with the disease and the recent research effort by the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Intel. The device reportedly used in the Fox-Intel study is from Pebble Technology. 

- here is the release from Global Kinetics on its wearable
- and here is coverage from the the BBC of the app

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