The Parkinson’s disease it is generally diagnosed when the symptoms are evident and the neuronal damage is irreversible. But a study British published today in the magazine nature medicine suggests that we already have enough data about a person’s movements or sleep to be able to diagnose the disease early. And they are in our “smartwatches” or smart watches.
As is often the case with scientific papers, the researchers themselves warn that more research is needed and to compare the findings with other data collected in other parts of the world. However, the paper claims that “since 30% of the British population” wears a smartwatch, recording a person’s movement data in this way could be “a cheap, non-invasive alternative” to mass screening of the populations most likely to have the disease.
Parkinson’s disease is an untreated neurodegenerative disorder that causes the progressive loss of neurons associated with motor function. Diagnosis usually comes when neurodegeneration has been ongoing for several years and between 50-70% of motor function neurons are affected.
Symptoms include involuntary shaking or tremors, slowness of movement, and stiff, inflexible muscles. Identifying individuals at risk of developing Parkinson’s disease would also help design more effective therapies against it, according to the authors. And it seems that they have developed a method to identify it seven years earlier for it to appear
The signs of the smartwatch that warn of Parkinson’s
To carry out the study, Cynthia Sandor, from Cardiff University (United Kingdom), and her team used information on 103,712 people of the UK Biobank, a huge database that includes medical information (habits, diet and more) on half a million people between the ages of 40 and 69, and that is available to the scientific community.
Among the data stored in the Biobank, there were records of the spontaneous movements of these patients which, a few years ago, were taken over a week with the aid of a wrist accelerometer. The team wanted to find out if these collected data could help identify cases of Parkinson’s disease before clinical diagnosis.
Through artificial intelligence, they developed machine learning models trained with the information collected by the movement devices. Upon analysis, the authors found that these data allowed to identify Parkinson’s disease better thanIt used commonly used clinical markers, such as those derived from lifestyle, genetics, blood biochemistry, and patient-reported symptoms.
Specifically, they found that patterns related to speed of movement and quality of sleep were associated with a future onset of the disease. They found that the slowing of a person’s movements occurred several years before the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Also, sleep disruption problems were more common in people who were eventually diagnosed with Parkinson’s than in those with other movement and neurodegenerative problems.
“We have shown here that a single week of data captured can predict events up to seven years in the future“said Sandor, the study’s lead author. “With these results, we could develop a valuable screening tool to aid in the early detection of Parkinson’s,” she adds.
“This has implications for both research, by improving recruitment into clinical trials, and clinical practice, by allowing patients access treatments at an earlier stage, in the futurewhen these treatments are available”, he explains, although he insists that it would be necessary to repeat the investigation with other cohorts of people to compare its results.
Spanish reaction: “An interesting study”
José López Barneo, professor of Physiology and researcher at the University of Seville, believes that the study is “very interesting” and “of quality” because it has shown a “very strong” correlation between people who move little and slowly with suffering Parkinson’s in the future, as stated for Science Media Center.
Regarding the advantages of a person discovering several years before that it is very likely that they will suffer from the disease in the future, it is “very interesting and valuable from the scientific point of view” because would help to better understand the pathogenesis of the disease and to test the efficacy of new protective drugs. However, since there is still no type of drug to prevent it, “it is not clear that this brings any advantage to the future patient. It is an issue that has important ethical implications“.
Along the same lines, José Luis Lanciego, Senior Researcher at the Program for Gene Therapy in Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Navarra, welcomes the fact that the study shows that movement data recorded with a portable device (such as a smartwatch or similar) is useful. to identify which people are most at risk of Parkinson’s and when. But he believes that said early diagnosis “of little” serves patients as long as they do not have neuroprotective treatment.