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Parkinson’s Disease, Part 2: Real-time health-tech deployments benefit Clinical Research

April 13th, 2015 | Health and Wellness | Article

As wearables gain popularity and health related applications rank higher on consumer needs; the health-tech industry is rapidly evolving. 2012 marked the new era of “health-tech” with Sage Bionetworks launching voice recording apps to check for voice tremors in Parkinson’s patients. The company expanded initial innovations to include screen tapping tests and walking/balancing assessments utilizing a mobile phone’s built in calibration hardware. The first version of this software was introduced on the mobile Android operating system. Taking a look at the dominant Android market share; Sage made the logical decision for where to launch first. However, operating in a market with a mega-influencer such as Apple does create quite a conundrum for competition. The Apple Watch has created a significant buzz. Consumers probably do not know smartwatches touting the Android software were around long before Apple’s watch. Apple’s significantly smaller market share is the powerful minority in the mobile tech world. 9 March, 2015 Apple announced ResearchKit, an open source framework app which allows developers to create apps for medical research studies. The Pharmaceutical industry and Parkinson’s researchers stood and took notice of what this could mean and the positive impacts.

Smartphones provide a platform for objective testing, leading to a more fully complete scientific picture. Considering the years of development invested in the Parkinson’s assessment software for Android, an Apple version, mPower (Mobile Parkinson Observatory for Worldwide, Evidence-based Research,) was a natural choice for one of the first 5 built in apps launched with ResearchKit. The team at Sage Bionetworks partnered with Apple to bring what they had built on Android to the ResearchKit platform. The potential advantages of this new development on Parkinson’s research is unfathomable. While we have not discovered the underlying cause of Parkinson’s Disease, we do know it can’t be entirely genetic, behavioral or environmental. To advance research to the next step, we need detailed knowledge about behavior and the environment of each patient.

As part of the launch of the mPower app, the Michael J. Fox Foundation has announced Fox Insight. Fox Insight marks the moment clinical trials catapulted into a new era. This is huge. It is a Web-based virtual clinical study; open to individuals of any age, both with and without Parkinson’s. With an iPhone app, and an easy online registration, Fox Insight can turn every one of the 700 million iPhone owners in the world into a subject. The sheer amount of data collected is unprecedented. Later this year, the data collected from participants will be used to validate the power of these two approaches in accelerating Parkinson’s disease research.

Innovations in the health-tech world today are positioned to impact the community forever and are forecasted to result in breakthrough advances for Parkinson’s research and many other life impacting indications. We should stay tuned and well aware with excitement.

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