Big Data Is Being Used To Fight Parkinson's

Intel and the Michael J Fox Foundation are using data to help understand the disease


Parkinson’s Disease affects 5 million people worldwide. It’s exposure has increased in recent years with famous sufferers including Muhammed Ali and Michael J Fox and it has allowed people to realize that it is not just older people who suffer from the disease.

Despite this, very little is actually known about the disease on a day-to-day basis. Typically the way that people are assessed for the disease is through 15 minute doctor’s appointments where they are assessed for severity. The issue with this is that the effects of the disease can change hourly, meaning that a 15 minute check will not fully understand the true severity of the condition.

Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel was diagnosed with the disease in 2000 and couldn’t believe that this was the case. So little was understood about the disease compared to others that there must have been other ways to help monitor patients.

As we move towards 2015, the solution may have been found in the use of wearable technologies and Big Data.

Intel have joined forces with the Michael J Fox foundation to create a test group of around 10,000 Parkinson’s suffers who will use wearable technology to monitor their steps, sleep and speed of movement. Each person will have 300 measurements taken every second, individually creating 1 gigabyte of data each day or 9.7 terabytes of data per data throughout the entire group.

Through the use of a Cloudera based platform hosted on an Amazon server, this data will be automatically uploaded to a central database that can then be accessed by researchers and data scientists.

Running this through dedicated algorithms and having the ability to tag segments, means that the researchers can gain an in depth insight from a vast data set. It is the kind of work that would not have been possible only 5 years ago, when the use of Smartphones was considerably less and the wearable market was yet to develop to a stage where patients could easily wear them.

However, the most important aspect that has allowed this to happen is that this amount of data can be managed and put to use. The development of Big Data and the ability to analyze petabytes of data into a meaningful and actionable report.

We often hear about Big Data’s business use and the use of wearables for achieving sporting goals, but this project is testament to the medical and humanitarian good that these combined technologies can achieve. 


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