Roughly 600,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Parkinson’s every year, contributing to the more than 10 million people worldwide already living with the neurodegenerative disease. Early detection can result in significantly better treatment outcomes, but it’s notoriously difficult to test for Parkinson’s.
To address this need, Tencent and health care firm Medopad have committed to trialing systems that tap artificial intelligence (AI) to improve diagnostic accuracy. Today, they announced a collaboration with the Parkinson’s Center of Excellence at King’s College Hospital in London to develop software that can detect signs of Parkinson’s within minutes. (Currently, motor function assessments take about half an hour.)
“The goal of Tencent and Medopad’s collaboration is to help expand the remit of AI-powered movement assessment, from sport and exercise to medicine, and to reduce the cost of motor function assessment,” said Dr. Wei Fan, head of Tencent Medical AI Lab. “This technology can help promote early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, screening, and daily evaluations of key functions.”
Medopad’s tech, which uses a smartphone camera to monitor patients’ fine motor movements, is one of several apps and wearables the seven-year-old U.K. startup is actively developing. It instructs patients to open and close a fist while it measures the amplitude and frequency of their finger movements, which the app converts into a graph for clinicians. The goal is to eventually, with the help of AI, teach the system to calculate a symptom severity score automatically.
Ongoing trials seek to determine whether treatment decisions informed by Medopad’s suite of apps meaningfully improve symptoms. If successful, Tencent and Medopad intend to conduct tests in health systems in the U.S., New Zealand, and China later this year.
Medopad CEO and founder Dan Vahdat told Bloomberg he believes the platform could one day be used to calibrate the medication dosages of children with brain cancers, knee conditions, or scoliosis.
“Our partnership with Tencent comes from a shared vision to change the future of health care as we know it,” Vahdat said. “In combining Medopad’s medical expertise and Tencent’s technical capabilities, we hope to provide the technology needed to support clinicians to predict preventable complications for people with Parkinson’s disease. Working together, we can achieve our vision to help more than 1 billion patients live longer and continue doing great work.”
Medopad, which counts pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG among its investors, earlier this year inked deals worth $131 million with a number of Chinese companies (including Tencent), and has projects in Germany, Singapore, and China. In September, it acquired San Francisco-based Sherbit, which uses personal data to uncover health insights through sensors, devices, and apps.
For its part, Tencent has investigated computer vision software that can diagnose skin cancer from pictures taken with a phone, and its AIMIS system — which is currently deployed in close to 100 hospitals around China — detects esophageal cancer, lung sarcoidosis, and diabetic retinopathy from medical images. Separately, it’s invested heavily in pharmaceutical and mobile health care startups, recently teaming up with Novartis and AstraZeneca and apps like WeDoctor, a $6 billion AI-enabled disease-detecting startup, and Blue, an app-based health insurer.
Tencent and Medopad are far from the only firms applying AI to health care. Just last week, Google subsidiary DeepMind announced that it would use mammograms from Jikei University Hospital in Tokyo, Japan to refine its AI breast cancer detection algorithms. And last month Nvidia unveiled an AI system that generates synthetic scans of brain cancer.