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February 17, 2020 Monday 11:24:49 AM IST

Wearables to revolutionise the early detection of diseases

Technology Inceptions

A global initiative involving UCL researchers will be using wearable technology, such as wristbands and mobile apps, to revolutionise the early detection of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The Early Detection of Neurodegenerative diseases (EDoN) initiative, led by Alzheimer’s Research UK, will harness and analyse a wealth of digital data to develop signatures of disease – or “fingerprints” – that can be then detected using wearable technologies, such as smartwatches.

Diseases like Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, start to develop in the brain up to two decades before symptoms of dementia begin to show. Researchers worldwide now agree that future treatments and preventions will have the greatest benefit when given as early as possible in the disease. Leading organisations in data science, clinical and neurodegenerative research are joining forces to collect and analyse clinical and digital health data such as sleep, gait and speech patterns, to develop early digital fingerprints of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

“We hope that this ambitious global project will help bring us closer to finding much-needed treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, combining digital data measurements with gold-standard clinical data such as imaging and memory tests, and using artificial intelligence to develop 'fingerprints' of individual diseases far earlier than is currently possible,” said Dr Cath Mummery (UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology), co-lead of the project’s Cohorts and Biomarkers Working Group. “Identifying the very early warning signs of neurodegenerative diseases, and developing a better understanding of how the diseases progress right from the start, could be invaluable to the development of treatments that could help people before dementia symptoms impact their quality of life.”

The collaboration aims to secure at least £67m over the first six years, with an ambition to attract up to £100m of total investment by 2030 to build and trial its diagnostic device on a large scale. Alongside Alzheimer’s Research UK, initial funds towards the initiative have also been secured from Bill Gates and Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation.

The EDoN’s Clinical Support Working Group will be co-led by Professor Zuzana Walker (UCL Psychiatry), while the Digital Tools Working Group will be co-led by Professor Dennis Chan, honorary lecturer at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

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