An Oxford University researcher and her team have demonstrated the superior effectiveness of digital wearable devices in monitoring the progression of Parkinson’s disease compared to human clinical observations. This breakthrough, detailed in a newly published paper, involved tracking over 100 metrics collected by these devices, enabling the identification of subtle changes in the movements of individuals with Parkinson’s, a condition affecting 10 million people worldwide.
The study’s lead researcher emphasized that this discovery does not represent a Parkinson’s treatment but rather a tool for assisting scientists in assessing whether novel drugs and therapies slow the disease’s progression. Six sensors per subject, placed on the chest, at the base of the spine, and one on each wrist and foot, tracked 122 physiological metrics. Among these, several dozen metrics were closely linked to disease progression, such as the direction of toe movement during a step and the length and regularity of strides.
Traditionally, clinical assessment has been the basis for Parkinson’s drug trials, but it can overlook day-to-day changes and subtle shifts not easily discerned during periodic doctor visits, explained Dr. Antoniades. The study’s authors concluded that the sensors outperformed conventional clinical rating scales in tracking disease progression.
These sensors utilized technologies like accelerometers and gyroscopes, commonly found in digital watches and smartphones, to capture wearers’ various movements, including direction, gait, and movement regularity. Following the publication of the results, Dr. Antoniades and her team received numerous inquiries from colleagues and media outlets about whether they had discovered a Parkinson’s cure. She clarified that while the advancement is significant, it serves as a tool to accelerate treatment development, not as a cure.
Dr. Antoniades expressed optimism about the potential application of such sensors in monitoring other illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, as they bridge bioengineering, clinical science, and movement science. Human doctors will continue to play a vital role in the process, with sensors complementing their observations. The ultimate goal is to enhance doctors’ diagnostic accuracy and decision-making.