Back to the Future star Michael J Fox has pledged more than £100,000 in funding toward the UK development of a new system for monitoring Parkinson’s Disease sufferers’ symptoms.
The Hollywood actor, who himself lives with the long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, founded The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF).
The foundation has awarded a University of London researcher the funding to back his app-based concept.
Fox was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s in 1991. He founded the MJFF in 2000, and the foundation has since then awarded more than USD $750 million in research funding (£530m).
Professor George Roussos, from Birkbeck’s School of Business, Economics and Informatics, developed smartphone and wearable-device apps in 2013 that are able to record Parkinson’s sufferers’ motor symptoms; including tremors, rigidity, and posture instability.
The app was designed to be used by patients at home, allowing them to record their own movements – such as by tapping their smartphone screen to assess their speed reflexes, or by placing the phone on their knee to measure tremors.
The data recorded by the phone’s sensors would then be used to calculate the severity of a symptom, using the clinical Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS).
The funding from the foundation will enable Mr Roussos to develop a software toolkit that would be used to analyse data from his cloudUPDRS apps, which researchers will use towards clinical assessments.
The app is currently undergoing clinical trials at University College London Hospitals, and the toolkit extension will be released freely to the Parkinson’s Disease research community to support therapeutic development research and clinical trials.
Mr Roussos said monitoring a Parkinson’s patient’s progression required very frequent testing of their motor symptoms, which could be affected by their diet and exercise regime, as well as by social interactions.
The app would enable patients to help researchers collect the data needed to monitor their own symptoms and benefit wider research into the disease, he said.
“The toolkit will help us develop clinical measures that could lead to early identification of problems such as side-effects from medications and individualised patient profiles that help with personalised assessment.”