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Tech Giants Join Fight Against Parkinson’s Disease

When it comes to harnessing the power of today’s technology in the healthcare sector, there are essentially two ways to do it…

  1. Using biotechnology to develop new drugs and therapies for illnesses and diseases.
  2. Using wearable technology to create devices that allows doctors and patients to better monitor illnesses and conditions.

We’ve covered both approaches many times here – and it’s the second one I want to focus on today.

That’s because two of America’s biggest tech firms are getting involved to help treat one of the world’s most baffling and cruel diseases…

Tech Help for Five Million

Affecting some five million people across the world, Parkinson’s Disease is a degenerative neurological condition that causes uncontrollable movements and twitching, loss of balance and coordination, decreased cognitive abilities, and speech difficulties.

And despite the countless millions poured into research, there’s no cure and scientists still have no definitive answer as to how and why it develops.

One of the leading research groups is The Michael J. Fox Foundation. Set up by the Hollywood actor in 2000 after discovering he had the disease, it’s worked tirelessly to fund research into new treatments, support programs, and, ultimately, a cure.

But a major new technology trend has the Foundation hooking up with a tech giant on a new venture…

How to Defeat a Stubborn Enemy: Enlist Some Tech Muscle

The trend in question is wearable technology, and the Foundation has partnered with Intel (INTC) to help monitor and track the progression of the disease in its victims.

It’s doing so by fitting patients with a smartwatch equipped with sensors that collect data on patients’ symptoms.

In a trial earlier this year, the Basis watch was strapped to 16 Parkinson’s sufferers for four days. The watches recorded 300 data points per second, which was uploaded to Intel’s system. The volunteers also kept a daily diary and had two clinical visits during the trial to support the information from the watch and ensure that the data was accurate.

Intel has a personal connection to Parkinson’s Disease, with former CEO, Andy Grove, diagnosed with the condition in the same year as Michael J. Fox. He’s now a senior advisor at the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Quoted on the BBC, Todd Sherer, CEO of the Foundation, explains the goal of the partnership: “This opportunity really will allow us the chance to uncover novel breakthroughs in Parkinson’s Disease by truly understanding how people are living with it today, how they’re responding to treatments, and what their unmet needs are.”

In other words, a quicker and more efficient way of gathering data, rather than simply taking medication and infrequently visiting a specialist for checkups.

Coming Soon… A Parkinson’s App

The Foundation and Intel will also collaborate on an app that will help doctors and patients gain unique, up-to-the-minute information about an individual’s health, body movement, sleep patterns, and the efficacy of certain medications. Trials will take place in Boston, New York, and Israel.

As Intel’s Big Data chief, Ronald Kasabian, admits, “The researchers are dying for the insight. The ability to see what’s happening to the patient on a minute-by-minute, 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year basis. The tremors, the sleep habits, to see that in real time will be one of the most eye-opening opportunities.”

This is crucial, given what the Michael J. Fox Senior Vice President of Research partnerships, Sohini Chowdhury, calls “on-off periods.” She explains, “When you’re ‘on,’ your medication is working. You’re able to move, you’re able to do the tasks you want. When you’re ‘off,’ you’re basically frozen, you can’t do anything. The question physicians tackle is: ‘Are we giving you the optimal dose to get you the right amount of on-off time during the day?”

In the spirit of what I’d call compassionate, collaborate innovation, Intel will make its research open source, in order for other research institutions and wearable companies to jump in, too.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation and Intel hope to bring their sensor smartwatch and app to market within a few years.

Google Enters The Fray

In other Parkinson’s-related news, Google (GOOGL) announced that it’s buying biotech firm, Calico, whose new invention has revamped the traditional, boring spoon for Parkinson’s patients.

Called Liftware, Calico’s spoon is similar to the Basis smartwatch, in that it uses sensors that pick up on tremors that Parkinson’s sufferers endure. It then vibrates in order to offset 70% of these unintended movements.

Think of like a steady cam, which eliminates photographers’ shaky hands, and allows them to take non-blurry pictures.

Financial details of the buyout are undisclosed, but Google will add Calico to its special Google X division, which is focused on developing new technologies.

Like Andy Grove at Intel, Google also shares a personal connection to Parkinson’s. Co-Founder Sergey Brin’s mother has Parkinson’s, and because of the genetic link, he’s discovered that he has an above-average chance of developing the disease himself. But he’s in a pretty privileged position to help fight the cause!

There’s no doubt that harnessing technology like these two innovations is vital in helping patients and doctors gain more understanding of this misunderstood disease… helping patients cope with it… and developing new ways of finding a cure for it.


Martin Denholm

Martin Denholm

, Managing Editor

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