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'Pocket doctor' diagnosis for Parkinson's

iPhone 5s

10 September 2014

Smartphones will soon be able to perform the functions of a ‘pocket doctor’ and map Parkinson’s disease and other degenerative diseases, thanks to the work of an Aston University mathematician. 

With Smartphones now able to accurately record movement, activity, location and differences in vocal tone, extensive research is being conducted into their potential as a medical diagnostic tool. 

Dr Max Little, of Aston’s Nonlinearity and Complexity Research Group, is utilising the latest advances in mobile technology to obtain information about how symptoms of Parkinson’s change in people on an hourly basis. Rare genetic conditions, such as Friedrich’s Ataxia, which causes muscle weakness as well as loss of speech and hearing, are also being analysed. 

In the study, a group of 2,500 people comprised of Parkinson’s patients, those thought susceptible to the disease and healthy individuals are asked to wear Smartphones. From the devices, Dr Little and his team collect data on how the testmove, how often they speak to others and how their voices alter over time. As information is recorded every 20 micro seconds, the amount of data gathered is vast. 

Dr Little said: “This new kind of remote data analysis will help patients to monitor their conditions on a minute-by-minute basis from the comfort of their own homes. Of course, it is still enormously important that they receive regular advice and treatment from medical professions, who may also benefit from this new technology. Physicians may be able to use data collected by their patients’ Smartphones to prescribe medications to help control degenerative conditions. 

This new kind of remote data analysis will help patients to monitor their conditions on a minute-by-minute basis from the comfort of their own homes

“This information may also help examine people thought susceptible to developing Parkinson’s disease. The condition is hard to diagnose, with specialists having to take a detailed history of peoples’ symptoms and analysing them for physical signs of the disease. Using Smartphone data may help to make this process much easier.” 

The research builds upon Dr Little’s previous studies into Parkinson’s disease which detected differences in voice patterns between people with and without the condition. In a lab-based study of the Smartphone vocal recordings of almost 17,000 people, accuracy of diagnosis was nearly 99%. 

The team are currently translating this technology and other collected data into a mobile format to provide daily analysis and feedback for individuals. 

Dr Little will present his work at a British Science Festival lecture on Monday 8 September at the University of Birmingham. 

The Festival will take place from 6-11 September in Birmingham and provides an opportunity to meet researchers face-to-face and discusses the latest developments in science, technology and engineering. 

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For further media information, please contact Jonathan Garbett, Aston University Communications on 0121 204 4552 or j.garbett@aston.ac.uk