Fox Foundation to Use mHealth Wearables in Parkinson’s Research

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research is launching a project to gather mHealth data from more than 800 people living with Parkinson’s through a wearable.

The foundation is partnering with Verily Life Sciences, one of the digital health companies under the Alphabet umbrella, to equip patients with the Verily Study Watch, described by the company as a “multi-sensor investigational wearable device t(that will) passively collect data on movement and physiologic and environmental measures continuously.”

The two-year project is part of the foundation’s Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative, an eight-year-old effort to improve understanding of the chronic disease and research new care management and treatment strategies. Participants are studied for five to 13 years in the program, coordinated through 33 clinical sites around the world.

"From the start, PPMI has made precious biological samples and rich clinical data from its large and diverse cohort available to qualified researchers around the world in response to the urgent need for improved methods to accelerate testing of novel treatments for Parkinson's disease,"  Foundation CEO Todd Sherer, PhD, said in a press release. "Expanding this resource through data science and wearable computing holds potential to deepen understanding of Parkinson's disease and gain meaningful insights that can inform care and therapeutic development decisions.”

"Verily's broadest goal as a company is to build tools to make data useful for obtaining deeper and more relevant insights to improve health - whether through earlier diagnosis, accelerated therapy development, or more effective disease management," William Marks, MD, MS, Head of Clinical Neurology at Verily, an offshoot of the Google network, said in the release. "These results are urgently needed across many neurological disorders, including Parkinson's disease. By capturing a wealth of data through studies such as PPMI and by deploying technology such as our Study Watch, we aim to build frameworks of multi-dimensional data of value to researchers, clinicians, and data scientists."

Parkinson’s researchers have long held that mHealth tools, such as sensor-embedded wearables, can help in studying the disease because they enable clinicians to passively collect real-time data from patients as they go about their day. That data may include movement, physiologic information, even atmospheric information that may affect the disease.

Last July, the Michael J. Fox Foundation announced a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Sage Networks, a nonprofit biomedical research organization that often uses digital health technology like Apple’s ResearchKit platform, to launch the Parkinson’s Disease Digital Biomarker DREAM Challenge, described as “the first of a series of open, crowd-funded projects designed to help researchers identify ways to use smartphones and remote sensing devices to monitor health and disease.”

The challenge incorporates data gathered in mPower, an mHealth project launched on the ResearchKit platform in 2015 with support from the RWJF. One of the first apps to be featured on ResearchKit, mPower has gathered remote data from more than 6,000 of the 15,000 Parkinson’s patients who enrolled online.

“Remote sensor data capture can be used to objectively detect fluctuations in symptoms within a patient such as in response to medication,” Larsson Omberg, vice president of systems biology at Sage Bionetworks, said in a July 2017 press release. “But we are not yet very good at detecting differences between PD and non-PD participants. A major contributing factor is the naïve approaches to feature engineering that are currently being used.”

The Michael J. Fox Foundation and Verily are also partners in the Accelerating Medicines Partnership Parkinson's disease (AMP PD) program, a collaboration the includes the National Institutes of Health and five life sciences companies.

That program uses cellular profiling technologies to samples collected through PPMI and other large-scale studies to define the molecular fingerprint of Parkinson's disease.

by Eric Wicklund,