What does Parkinson’s disease look like? Slowed movement, tremor, muscle rigidity, balance problems, changes in speech and more—the list of symptoms is long and varied. There is still much to understand about this neurodegenerative condition. Because more than 10 million people worldwide are affected by this disorder, there's also an urgent need to develop therapies that halt or at least slow progression of the disease.
As a neurologist, when I meet a patient newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I’m able to give reassurance that there are many treatments available to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s and to improve their function. I’m not, however, able to provide an intervention that stops the diseases, reverses it, or even decelerates its unavoidable progression. And when asked to offer a prognosis, I am limited again in how I can help. The quality of life for people living with Parkinson’s can be so varied—two people, diagnosed on the same day with the same symptoms, may be living entirely different lives 10 years later.
As a researcher, I am keenly aware of the excellent work being done in the field, including molecular investigations, genetic research, brain imaging, and more. But we still don't understand Parkinson's disease well enough. Our current approach has left many questions unanswered and patients waiting.
That’s why I’m excited to announce the launch of a new, multi-year research study in collaboration with Radboud University Medical Center, Radboud University, ParkinsonNet, and Verily Life Sciences. Based in the Netherlands, this study will explore many factors that may be impacting the course of Parkinson’s disease. Our vision is to identify new biological markers that allow us to track the progression of the disease more sensitively and ultimately inform better treatments. We’ll accomplish this using sophisticated molecular analyses, advanced brain imaging, and wearable devices. The sensors in these devices are capable of measuring key information like vital signs and activity level, making it possible to perform in-depth analyses and characterizations of the disease.
This public-private partnership will bring together the internationally recognized experts in Parkinson’s disease at Radboud University and Medical Center like Professor Bastiaan Bloem, the comprehensive care network of ParkinsonNet, and the analytical power of Verily. Our research will aggregate multiple data points from a nationally representative cohort to identify patterns that affect the progression of the disease. This rare access to a “real-life” sample is enabled by the infrastructure built by the highly awarded ParkinsonNet, comprised of 3,000 medical and allied health professionals covering all people with Parkinson’s disease in the country of the Netherlands.
The data we collect will also be made available to qualified researchers interested in gleaning new insights about Parkinson’s disease. This study is pioneering a novel privacy method called polymorphic encryption and pseudonymization (PEP), developed by renowned digital security experts Professors Bart Jacobs and Eric Verheul of the Digital Security Group at the Institute for Computing and Information Sciences at Radboud University. We're excited to use this cutting edge privacy and security technique in our clinical research.
It is truly a unique opportunity for our research community to work together toward better outcomes for the people we serve. The research will take time, but I am optimistic that this approach can change the way my future conversations with Parkinson’s patients will sound—filled with a brighter outlook on their health.
Posted by William Marks, MD, MS, Head of Clinical Neurology at Verily