A leading UK dementia charity has hopes to develop a smartwatch off the back of a new research project, that is capable of spotting the early signs of dementia, according to the BBC.
Alzheimer’s Research UK has aims to attract a million volunteers from across the UK to sign up for a programme which will gather and examine a wide range of clinical and digital data to facilitate the early detection of the neurodegenerative disease.
The smartwatch will collate data on such areas as sleep, gait, speech and eye movement will be tracked and analysed by teams of specialists, looking to spot patterns which may signify evidence of dementia – including its most common form, Alzheimer’s.
From this, ‘fingerprints’ – or common traits – will be developed to highlight initial signs. The objective is then to design a wearable device capable of detecting the fingerprints to enable early diagnosis.
The project forms part of a new global initiative, Early Detection of Neurodegenerative diseases (EDoN), which brings together a wealth of top health institutions – including the Alan Turning Institute, University College London and the University of Cambridge – to participate in the sharing of health data set to inform the research project.
It also aims to raise £100 million of investment by 2030 – £67 million over the next six years – to finance the research and development of the wearable technology and has already received funding from Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation.
Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Our research shows that 85% of UK adults would be willing to take a test that could tell them if they were in the early stages of a disease like Alzheimer’s, even before symptoms show.
“EDoN aims to harness the growing popularity of digital health technology and big data to revolutionise how we develop early tests for these diseases.
“Developing digital fingerprints that can be detected using phone apps or wearable technologies like smartwatches would provide a low-cost approach to identifying those most at risk of disease.”
The University of Oxford’s Professor Chris Holmes – programme director for health at The Alan Turing Institute and an EDoN partner – added: “Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform the learning opportunities from large scale data studies such as EDoN, by integrating information from multiple sources, this being an area of strength at the Turing.
“We will use AI to deliver new insights into the early signals of disease by combining digital data measurements with traditional sources such as brain imaging and memory tests. More accurate and timely detection will enable earlier enrolment for patients onto clinical trials and provide new scientific insight into the initial stages of diseases like Alzheimer’s.”
Around 50 million people are affected by dementia across the world, according to the World Health Organisation, with almost 10 million new cases of the syndrome emerging each year.
Forms such as Alzheimer’s can start to develop in the brain two years before evidence of symptoms, and experts now believe any future treatments will prove most effective when administered at the earliest stage possible.
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