10 Ways We're Using Data to Fight Disease


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Detecting Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease
Boxer Muhammad Ali, who had Parkinson's disease for years, is shown with his wife Yolanda Ali at an event. Axel Koester/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images
Boxer Muhammad Ali, who had Parkinson's disease for years, is shown with his wife Yolanda Ali at an event. Axel Koester/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Parkinson's disease, a neurological condition that affects more than 10 million people worldwide, provides a great example of how data collection combined with technology can make a difference in health care [source: Parkinson's Disease Foundation].

A person with Parkinson's often has very severe body tremors. These are caused because his or her brain slowly stops producing a neurotransmitter called dopamine. The less dopamine a person has, the less able he is to control his movements and emotions [source: National Parkinson Foundation].

However, by the time he has visible symptoms (like shaking) and is diagnosed with Parkinson's, as much as 80 percent of the neurons in his brain associated with dopamine have been destroyed [source: Feber]. While there is currently no cure for Parkinson's, there are treatments to keep the symptoms under control. So, if doctors can detect symptoms earlier, then treatment can start sooner.

To this end, several companies have been investigating wearable technology to gather data about barely noticeable tremors, walking gait and sleep quality. As the data is pulled together, it can provide information to the technology wearers about whether they might have a predisposition to Parkinson's and help them get treatment early. Collecting this massive amount of data in a central hub also gives doctors and scientists the ability to search for common threads in Parkinson's patients, perhaps one day leading to a cure.