Motion capture suit technology used in CGI-heavy films like Avatar is being used by researchers to detect and track diseases that impair movement.
The sooner these diseases can be detected, the sooner patients can receive treatment.
Researchers from Imperial College and University College London developed a system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze body movements in order to measure the severity of these diseases.
After testing it out on patients with Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA) and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), both of which are inherited movement disorders, researchers were apparently able to measure the severity twice as fast as the best doctors could.
FA and DMD currently have no cure.
Each participant was placed inside a 17-sensor bodysuit and assessed while performing everyday activities during three clinical visits over a 12-month period.
By establishing behavioral fingerprints, researchers also used machine learning algorithms to make predictions regarding the disease’s trajectory, as well as to track responses to therapy.
Dr. Valeria Ricotti worked with researchers to develop this technology, which was 10 years in the making. She also works for Great Ormond Street Institute for Child Health.
She told the BBC that the impact of this technology could be massive, especially on “diagnosis and developing new drugs for a wide range of diseases.”
Researchers suspect that apart from FA and DMD, the technology could help with other diseases affecting movement that involve the brain, the nervous system, the heart, lungs, muscles, bones, or several psychiatric disorders.
The usual method of tracking movement-inhibiting diseases involves tracking and measuring the speed and accuracy of a patient’s movements in carrying out a set action, which assessment can take years.
One of the reasons the new technology is so much faster and more accurate is because it can detect “subtle movements that humans can’t pick up on,” according to Imperial College’s Professor Aldo Faisal, one of the scientists who came up with the idea of this new tech.
The system may also lower the costs of clinical drug trials. As the system is highly efficient, it is likely that researchers “will be able to trial more drugs with less patients at a lower cost,” according to Professor Paola Giunti, head of UCL’s Ataxia Centre.
Regarding DMD disorders, clinical trials usually require the examination of 100 patients for 18 months to get viable results, but with AI it is suspected to require only 15 patients for six months.
If the researchers get approval for the use of motion capture technology in drug trials specifically investigating FA and DMD, the trials could start in two years.
In addition to FA and DMD, the researchers are exploring how the technology could be used with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and MS patients.