mPower Parkinsons

Parkinson’s Disease is a chronic, debilitating disease for which there is currently no cure, yet it affects seven to 10 million people worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranks complications from the disease as the 14th leading cause of death in the U.S. As a result, researchers are hard at work to understand the causes and mechanisms of the condition, so that they can develop more effective treatments and possibly even a cure. One of the big challenges, however, is accumulating sufficient data to create meaningful studies. Most studies rely on data from groups of 100 patients or less.

Sage Bionetworks. a nonprofit biomedical research organization, has addressed this problem through the creation of an iPhone app, mPower. This program lets Parkinson’s patients record data about their symptoms, relying on the sensors already built into smartphones. The data includes manual dexterity, balance and gait, memory, and speech characteristics. The key feature of the app, however, is that it is linked to Apple’s ResearchKit, that allows participants to choose whether or not they want to share their data with researchers. Since the app was launched a year ago in March 2015, more than 15,000 people have downloaded it, and approximately 9,500 of them have opted to share their data with researchers. Sage Bionetworks recently announced access to this dataset for qualified scientists, so that they can perform their own analysis of the millions of data points already gathered.

The data has already yielded patterns between medication intake and symptoms, as well as variation of symptoms within individuals. Further analysis of the data may lead to new treatments, and new ways to identify which patients are more likely to respond well to a given therapy plan.