MJFF launches $10,000 Data Challenge encouraging researchers to try and find out
Smartphones carry basic sensors that can be used to measure and monitor many features of Parkinsonís disease (PD), which can in turn provide a window into a patientís life. The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) is now asking researchers if they might also help to monitor an individualís personal experience with PD, with the end goal of using collected data to measure symptoms in clinical trial participants, or even to improve the effectiveness of existing treatments.
This week, MJFF launched a $10,000 research challenge to spur ideas for using smartphone-based data already collected from a group of Parkinsonís patients and control subjects.
The Foundation is challenging entrants to develop the best way to translate analysis of this data into real benefits for patients.†
MJFF spoke with Daniel Vannoni, an entrepreneur who helped to compile the data, about the potential predictive power of smartphones, the Challenge itself, and why he and his brother Alex first developed an interest in PD research in the first place.†
MJFF: Letís start with the basics. What can a phone really tell us about Parkinsonís disease?
DV: Potentially, a lot. Let me start by saying that the great thing is that these devices are already integrated into everyday life, so this type of study doesnít have a major ask of its participants in terms of their time/ monetary investment.†
Smartphones have built-in sensors that easily collect data on a lot of things. For this challenge, for example, weíve collected voice, GPS, and accelerometer data, all critical information which can help us to better understand behavioral tendencies.† We can then compare this data with historical data like weather and environment, to begin to draw conclusions about a personís specific experience with disease. And if you get a big enough dataset, thereís potential that you could also begin to learn more about how disease progresses on the whole.
MJFF:† What are you hoping that a winning entry in this Challenge might be able to accomplish with this data?
DV: As you know, there is, as of yet, no objective measure for diagnosing the onset and progression of Parkinsonís disease. Hopefully down the road, smartphone-collected data could help clinicians to do just this. Measuring how someoneís voice changes, or how far they walk, or the rate of their gait, could potentially help physicians better quantify, and then, understand the disease. Hereís what weíd like for these projects to be able to answer:
- Can the data help distinguish PD patients from control subjects?
- Can the data help to measure the progression, change and/or variability of symptoms†in PD subjects?
- Can the data be used in other creative ways to inform patient treatment, care and/or quality of life?
- Do the analyses and proposed uses of the data use innovative approaches and methods?
There still is quite a lot of work to do to interpret what certain changes measured by smartphones mean, and weíre a ways off from understanding how any of this data relates to PD.† But an end goal would be to one day develop an application that can help doctors to diagnose and track PD progression, all from a patientís phone.†
MJFF: Why your personal focus on Parkinsonís disease in the first place?
DV: I have family members with Parkinsonís disease, and in the past, both my brother Alex and my uncle have participated in the New England Parkinsonís Ride in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Itís a really great event. Alex is actually very much professionally interested in health and wellness, and so in several ways, this project was a nice fit for us. Actually, itís possible that smartphones could be used in the future to measure the effect of exercise on certain symptoms of diseases such as PD.
We initially came into the data through a collaboration with Max Little, a mathematician at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is working to understand how phone-collected voice recordings could predict Parkinsonís. We thought that other data collected from phones could also make for an interesting project. Weíre delighted to be able to collaborate with The Michael J. Fox Foundation on this initiative, and we look forward to reading some fantastic entries.†††
The Parkinson's Data Challenge is accepting applications from now until March 26, 2013, 11:59 PM EST. Apply now. †