The progression of multiple sclerosis can be assessed by tapping on a smartphone

THE ESSENTIAL

  • By analyzing the typing speed on a phone through an application, it is possible to see the evolution of the disease.
  • Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune and neurodegenerative disease that destroys myelin sheaths, isolating it around neurons.
  • The destruction of these insulators leads to a slowing down of the exchange of information between the brain and the body, and therefore, to a gradual slowing down of movements.

Our phone is more useful than we think in monitoring our health. Researchers at the University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands) have developed a method to measure the progression of multiple sclerosis using an application that analyzes the speed of typing on a touch phone. The study was posted online in Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science November 12, 2020.

A mobile application dedicated to patients

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune and neurodegenerative disease that affects the central nervous system. It degrades the myelin sheath, isolating it around the axons that connect neurons together. When the myelin sheath is damaged, it slows down the transmission of electrical information between neurons, which also slows down information going from the brain to the rest of the body. This disease, which affects twice as many women as men, affects more than 100,000 people in France and 2.3 million people worldwide.

Based on the observation that multiple sclerosis slows down nerve information between the body and the brain, researchers decided to use the speed of typing a message on a touch screen to measure the progression of the disease. To do this, they analyze the typing speed, the latency time between each letter typed, as well as the number of mistakes made and corrected.

For their study, they called on people with and without multiple sclerosis, aged between 18 and 65 years. For twelve months, thanks to a mobile application, called Neurokeys, on board participants’ phones, they were able to observe changes in patients compared to people who do not have multiple sclerosis.

Better monitoring of the disease on a daily basis

Clinically relevant changes in the dynamics of the strike can be seen as early warning signals for changes in the patient’s disease activity before the change occurs, says James Twose, data scientist in artificial intelligence at the University of Amsterdam. In chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease, there is worsening over time. When it comes to typing, you need to have all your faculties to do it well. This is where we notice the people who have problems with it.”

The best way to track changes in the brain caused by multiple sclerosis is still with MRI scans, which patients do every 3 to 12 months with their doctor. However, the researchers remain convinced that their continuous monitoring method can help healthcare professionals predict when further changes in treatment are needed.

Such a system could prove useful to people with chronic illnesses for several reasons. On the one hand, it would give a more complete picture of the evolution of patients’ state of health between two appointments. On the other hand, this would also represent an facility for seriously ill patients, who may have difficulty moving around, being monitored remotely and therefore being able to change their treatment.


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