A Phone Call to Diagnose PARKINSON’S DISEASE
Max Little put out a call for 10,000 Parkinson’s volunteers for his project, the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative. Dr. Little, a British mathematician, started his project while he was a visiting professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA during 2012. To his delight, 17,000 people responded to his request. His volunteers were asked to phone in, using a cell phone, and provide him with a scripted sample of their voices. Not all the volunteers were diagnosed with PARKINSON’S, which provided a source of controls.
When people with PARKINSON’S speak, their voice sometimes has certain specific indications, such as breath fluctuations and nuances in the rhythm and flow of their speech. Dr. Little thought he might be able to analyze these sequences of speech to find indications that would be specific to PARKINSON’S DISEASE. He has been looking at 300 markers and will use them to create a system to automatically analyze people’s voices for symptoms of PARKINSON’S DISEASE.
The philosophy behind his research project aims to help identify, if not actually diagnose, signs of PARKINSON’S using a simple inexpensive method which could be very useful in areas of the world where there are few neurologists and many people suffering from PARKINSON’S. With information from the voice analysis, it could be determined whether they needed to go for a neurological check up.
Voice analysis lead Dr. Little to begin exploring movement data, also gathered from cell phones. This could provide physicians with information about tremor and other motor or movement problems. Collecting data from a simple phone call would be a way to use crowd sourcing and computer data analysis to make treatment options for people more available and much less expensive. These are early days in this area of research, but the potential promise is tremendous.
Review by Marcia McCall