Category: Ataxia UK

Posted on 04.05.2023

Exciting research from two ground-breaking studies shows the power of wearable technology and artificial intelligence in monitoring movement disorders, including Friedreich’s ataxia (FA).

FA is the most common type of hereditary ataxia, often presenting in childhood or adolescence. Around 500 children in the UK have ataxia, impairing their balance, communication and muscle strength and hugely impacting their daily lives.

Researchers at Imperial College and University College London (UCL) have spent 10 years developing the new technology used in this ‘proof of concept’ study. Colleagues at the Ataxia UK accredited UCL Ataxia Centre in London, tested the motion sensor suits on patients with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA), whilst another study looked at its use for monitoring Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD).

Tracking the progression of FA is normally done using ataxia rating scales, where a doctor carries out a range of tests to assess the FA symptoms. This new technology has the potential to provide a much more precise assessment of movement. It is not unlike the technology used by the film industry to capture the movement of actors in films like Avatar which are then transformed into alien characters.

Researchers concluded that the Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems analysing data from the wearable tech, could accurately predict the worsening of the disease in around half the time monitoring by an expert would take.

Ataxia UK provided some funding to gather elements of the data that lead to this project, via a grant to Professor Paola Giunti, Head of UCL’s Ataxia Centre.

Professor Giunti said: “Using this technology, fewer patients will be needed for clinical trials, as the results will be much more accurate. This is particularly important for rare conditions like FA, where finding enough people for a large trial can be a challenge.”

More work is needed before this technology can be implemented in the clinic but could be helping children and young people with FA in the near future, to manage the progression of their condition.

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