Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a rare disease that causes progressive loss of muscle mass and affects one in every 3,500 children. The follow-up of this disease includes a test in which the patient must walk for six minutes through a hospital corridor under the observation of a doctor. However, the test results can be altered by multiple circumstances, from when the child’s parents have had to park far from the hospital, until the child is irritable or has slept poorly.
How then to achieve the precision that a test of these characteristics needs and which is key so that patients can access certain treatments? To face this challenge, Ofir Arad, father of one of the patients and a doctor in organic chemistry, got in touch with Sebastian Idelsohn, a researcher at the Eurecat technology center in Catalonia. They needed a technological solution and, together with the biomedical engineer Mireia Claramunt, also a researcher at Eurecat, they embarked on the project with the support of the community of innovators in digital health EIT Health of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology of the European Union.
The solution was found in artificial intelligence, applied to data collected by sensors that the doctor can consult through an application. The tests to test the technology were carried out with patients from the Sant Joan de Déu Hospital in Barcelona. “We did a test with 30 patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and 30 healthy volunteer children from the Escuela de Maristas La Inmaculada (Barcelona) and we confirmed the score we obtain with our technological solution is more sensitive and robust than the one currently available with the so-called six minutes-walk test, which they carry out under the observation of a doctor in the hospital corridor ”, explains Claramunt.
The key is in the synchronization of the eight types of sensors that the patient wears, and that detect indicators such as acceleration, spin, heart rate and movement and send the information to the platform: it is essential that all the data arrive in the same moment so that they can be analyzed by the artificial intelligence of the application. This was one of the main technological challenges for the researchers, as explained by its main researcher, although there is still room for improvement. “With the application we are going very to the limit of bluetooth, although the problem has been improving with bluetooth 5,” he explains.
Once the information is received, Claramunt continues, “the most complex part is treating all the raw data, interpreting it and visualizing it, obtaining an overall score from the test. This is the essential part, so that “doctors can understand them and have more control over what has happened during the test.” The kit that they deliver to the health workers includes a mobile with the application, where everything is anonymized by means of a code to identify each patient, with the aim of “guaranteeing security and privacy”, explains the engineer.
Endorsed by the application of this system in Duchenne patients and backed by the Sant Joan de Déu Hospital, Mobile World Capital and Eurecat, the company Ephion Health has been founded, with Claramunt as head of technology and Quique Llaudet as CEO. The first step will be to patent its pioneering system in the use of artificial intelligence from data collected by sensors to monitor the evolution of patients with diseases that affect mobility, which may also be used for other more common diseases such as stroke or for the prevention of falls in the elderly. In parallel, Llaudet explains, they are closing a “financing round of 250,000 euros with business angels and some venture capital fund so that the tool goes on the market as soon as possible ”.
Although they arose to help children with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and affirm that they will remain “faithful” to the commitment they have made with them, as it is a rare disease, “they are not going to do business with it.” However, the potential of the project lies in applying this technology to many other diseases that affect mobility, giving support to the pharmaceutical industry, offering them “a specific, faster and cheaper tool that allows them to make decisions in a more agile way during the development of new drugs, for the benefit of patients ”, concludes Llaudet.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.