A determined project to make a wearable device to detect initial signs of Alzheimer’s disease has been initiated.
Charity Alzheimer’s Research UK is directing the Early Detection of Neurodegenerative diseases (Edon).
It will firstly analyse data from ongoing studies into the disease, using artificial intelligence.
And this data will be used to make a prototype device in three years.
Wearables gather a range of data including heart rate, gait and sleep patterns and the hope is by studying this data, researchers can start to map indications of the disease years before symptoms develop.
The global plan has already won funding from technology founder turned humanitarian Bill Gates.
But it also makes part of the UK government’s broader ambition to use artificial intelligence and data to help better comprehend and stop chronic diseases.
Firstly, EDoN will work with the UK’s national institute for artificial intelligence and data science, The Alan Turing Institute, to search through data from going on with studies into Alzheimer’s disease.
Prof Chris Holmes, health programme manager at the institute, said: “Artificial intelligence has the ability to transform the learning prospects from large-scale data studies such as Edon by assimilating information from multiple sources.
“We will use AI to provide new insights into the initial signals of disease by uniting digital data measurements with conventional sources such as memory tests and brain imaging.”
There are presently 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, as reported by Alzheimer’s Research UK.
And worldwide, the number is expected to rise from 50 million in 2018 to 152 million in 2050.
Carol Routledge, manager of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Developing digital fingerprints that can be perceived using phone apps or wearable technologies like smartwatches would offer a low-cost approach to finding those most at risk of disease.
“Detecting the very earliest changes in these diseases would change research efforts today, giving us the best chance of preventing these diseases before the symptoms of dementia begin to get in the way of life.”
Helpers to wear the device and share their data will come from another determined UK health project, the Accelerating Detection of Disease Programme.
Inaugurated last year as part of the government’s mission to alter the diagnosis of disease using data and AI, it plans to recruit five million volunteers.
In addition to Alzheimer’s research, those who sign up will contribute to studies on heart disease and cancer.