Michael J Fox, Parkinsons and Wearable Device Technology


We all know that the 55 year old Canadian superstar Michael J. Fox has Parkinson disease, a progressive degenerative disease of the part of the brain called the substantia nigra that controls movement. Although Parkinson disease occurs mostly in older people, it sometimes does strike people in their forties or, as with Mr. Fox, even younger people.

Mr. Fox was first diagnosed when he noticed a "twitch" in his left little finger while he was working on the set of the 1991 film Doc Hollywood. Parkinson disease has several classic signs and symptoms including tremors, stiffness of the limbs, a mask-like face, gait disturbance (difficulty in walking) , depression and late in the disease, dementia.

In the year 2000 he launched The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, which the New York Times has called as the most credible voice on Parkinson's research in the world. Today the largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson's drug development in the world, the Foundation has galvanized the search for a cure for Parkinson's disease, and Michael is widely admired for his tireless work as a patient advocate.

Wearable Sensors and a Web-Based Application to Monitor Patients with Parkinson's Disease in the Home Environment

In order to collect data from patients, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) has teamed up with Intel to leverage the tech company's tracking prowess. The effort employs Intel's big data analytics platform to comb through stats collected by wearable devices that monitor symptoms.

A "multiphase study" will gather data from patients in order to inform drug research and development. Rather than depending on written journals, wearable devices can gather info on slowness of movement, severity of tremors and sleep quality 24 hours a day. The duo also has a mobile app in the works that will add the ability for patients to input their medications and how they're feeling as addition details for researchers.



The variability in Parkinson's symptoms creates unique challenges in monitoring progression of the disease. 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.

Wearables are a natural fit for this kind of symptom tracking. We already have wearables that track data for conception, and mathematicians are using smartphones to analyze voice data to diagnose Parkinson's. While Apple has rolled out its Health Kit tracking system, with tools for developers, physicians are well on their way to recognizing the possibilities for serious healthcare interventions.

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