4 posts tagged “Max Little”

Update and results – the Patient Voice Analysis study

Posted April 27th, 2015 by

About a year ago, the PatientsLikeMe Parkinson’s disease (PD) community started something totally different: a study to compare the sound of their voices to their self-reported PD Rating Scale (PDRS) on PatientsLikeMe. It’s called the Patient Voice Analysis (PVA), and we teamed up with you, Max Little, Ph.D. and Sage Bionetworks to get it done.

A little bit of background
Dr. Little had done some earlier work and compared the voice signals of people who were living with PD to those of people who were not, but we wanted to take that to the next level. With their PDRS, they shared how Parkinson’s was affecting them, and we were able to match their self-reported scores to the sound of their voice.

By matching a PDRS to voice samples, we might develop the ability to predict PDRS scores (which takes a few minutes to complete) by using the voice test (which only takes a few seconds). We might also be able to detect more subtle changes in people’s Parkinson’s through their voice than we can through the PDRS. This is what Dr. Little is working toward, and all the voice samples you donated will help make it happen.

Community results, starting with the basics
Who took part, from where, and how many PDRS scores could we match to voice recordings?

  • Most of the recordings came from the U.S. (81%), with others coming from the U.K. (12%), Canada (5%) and some from Australia and New Zealand, too.
  • 677 of you recorded 851 voice samples
    • Since our original goal was 500 samples, you blew that out of the water!
  • 114 of you took the test two or more times, and one community member even contributed 10 recordings!
    • For those that took part more than once, we can start to examine how your symptoms changed over time.

Why voice recording quality matters
For the PVA study, you were able to use your landlines, cell phones, even Skype or Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) to submit your voice samples. The recording quality varies depending on which type of call you used, occasionally creating technical issues in analyzing the voice samples.

For example, if you’re using a cell phone in a busy restaurant, your microphone will automatically get louder so that the person you’re talking to can hear your voice better and without distortion. But that also changes the loudness of the background noise. In this study, that automatic change could actually affect the quality of the voice recording, so we have to identify where this has been an issue and find ways to overcome it.

Partly because of this, we’re still analyzing the voice samples in detail. We’re looking for subtle markers of Parkinson’s, such as fluctuations in volume, pitch and breathiness. We’re also training intelligent algorithms to identify when the quality of the voice recording is strong enough so we can develop a consistent and repeatable process.

You be the researcher
To give you some idea of what we are looking for in these voice recordings, we wanted to share a couple with you. The first is someone living with severe Parkinson’s, who scores 55 on the PDRS. You can probably hear the noticeable tremor in pitch, and the occasional short breaks in voicing.

The second is a recording of someone with mild Parkinson’s, who has a very low PDRS score of 1.

Can you hear the subtle drift in pitch? This is, most likely, indistinguishable from normal pitch drift. Subtle pitch variations such as this are one of the kinds of symptoms that algorithms attempt to identify from these voice recordings, and they contribute towards making the PDRS prediction.

So, what’s next?
At this stage, the PVA project is still just a research tool and isn’t quite ready for clinical or diagnostic use. We’re still working on analyzing the data to compare the severity of voice patterns to the reported severity of Parkinson’s disease. But in the meantime, if you’re looking to share more info with your doctor, the most useful tool is your PDRS score on your PatientsLikeMe profile. It contains items that make sense to a neurologist. If your clinic has access to speech and language pathologists, they would also have the ability to map any vocal issues you may be experiencing as part of your Parkinson’s.

As we continue to evolve the tools, we hope to provide individual level feedback and information for clinicians. But before that can happen, we want to make sure that the data quality is high enough to support drawing clinical conclusions.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word for Parkinson’s.


The Ups and Downs of Parkinson’s Disease

Posted February 5th, 2013 by

We are all too aware that Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive illness, with tremors, difficulty walking and other symptoms usually getting worse over time.  Here at PatientsLikeMe, and in the clinic, that progression is measured with the Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (PDRS). Although you can never really simplify a whole disease down to a few numbers, having that numerical description helps your health care team track your disease and how you are doing over the long haul.

But if you or a loved one has PD, you know that a decline over time is only part of the story. You probably have good days and bad days, depending on all kinds of factors. Understanding those ups and downs is also big part of living with PD. It may also be a big part of treating it.

A Sample PDRS Chart Showing Ups and Downs in Disease Progression

In collaboration with PatientsLikeMe’s Paul Wicks and MIT’s Max Little and Alex Pentland, I have been studying those ups and downs. In our freely available paper recently published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, we explored mathematically the dynamics of the PDRS. (If you love math, this is the paper for you!)

One of the most important things we found is that these random fluctuations seen in many patients are large enough that they can be considered “clinically meaningful” – just as big as those long-term progression changes that doctors and nurses consider when they think about what treatments may be best for you. So, it is especially important for your team to know how you’ve been doing over the last few weeks, and not just today.

Knowing your own ups and downs may help you figure out your best possible treatment plan. We also hope that by studying the data shared by lots of people like you, we can understand PD better, which will ultimately lead to better treatments for everyone. As always, thanks for sharing!

p.s. For those of you keeping up, yes, the Max Little mentioned above is the very same applied mathematician we’ve partnered with to help advance his groundbreaking research at the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative.  Don’t miss this recent CNN profile of Max’s exciting project, which is based on the theory that the voice (as recorded via a simple phone call) can be used as a biomarker for PD progression.

PatientsLikeMe member tvaughan


PatientsLikeMe and Dr. Max Little Team Up to Advance Parkinson’s Research Through the Patient Voice

Posted December 3rd, 2012 by

TED Fellows Call on Parkinson’s Patients to Help Screen, Monitor Disease Progression

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — December 3, 2012 —Today, Paul Wicks Ph.D., director of research for PatientsLikeMe, and Max Little, Ph.D., founder of the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative (PVI), kick off a partnership to advance Parkinson’s disease (PD) research through the sound of the patient voice. The two TED Fellows, whose collaboration was recently highlighted on CNN’s “The Next List with Dr. Sanjay Gupta,” are calling on PatientsLikeMe members to record their voices and update their own health profiles to keep track of their disease status.

PatientsLikeMe and PVI have joined forces to further validate Dr. Little’s discovery that the voice can be used as a biomarker for disease progression. Dr. Wicks says, “If Max’s work proves out, this could mean that the cell phones we all carry may be the key to the best biomarker for Parkinson’s disease. The project could also lead the way in lowering the cost and accelerating the discovery of the next generation of treatments. It’s an honor to collaborate with Max and our patients on such transformative work.”

PD is a progressive disorder of the nervous system affecting 6.3 million people worldwide. In a recent TED talk, Dr. Little explains it’s expensive and time consuming to detect the disease early on, and nearly impossible to objectively measure the disease’s progression outside of clinical trials. Through a simple phone call, Dr. Little is testing if the tremors in a voice can be used to diagnose, measure and even assess the effectiveness of PD treatments.

Dr. Little adds, “Voluntary patient registries like the one Jamie Heywood and his team have pioneered are becoming crucial for researchers like me to accelerate and transform discovery. Our work with PatientsLikeMe will help us further validate our research by giving PVI access to more people, and more information, in real time.”

PVI has combined a digital microphone, precise voice analysis software and the latest advances in machine learning to create an unconventional method for automatically screening and monitoring PD. To learn more about the PVI and PatientsLikeMe, visit www.patientslikeme.com/join/pvi.

About PatientsLikeMe
PatientsLikeMe is a patient network that helps improve lives and a real-time research platform that advances medicine. Through the network, patients connect with others who have the same disease or condition and track and share their own experiences. In the process, they generate data about the real-world nature of disease that help researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers and nonprofits develop more effective products, services and care. PatientsLikeMe has become a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 25 peer-reviewed research studies. Visit us at www.patientslikeme.com or follow us via our blog, Twitter or Facebook.


PatientsLikeMe’s Paul Wicks Is a TED2013 Fellow

Posted November 14th, 2012 by

PatientsLikeMe Research & Development Director Paul Wicks, PhD

We are thrilled to announce that PatientsLikeMe Research & Development Director Dr. Paul Wicks, PhD, has been named a TED2013 Fellow.  He is one of 20 individuals to be selected from more than 1,200 candidates to attend the TED2013 conference in Long Beach, California, participate in a preconference bootcamp and receive mentoring from the TED community.

If you’re not familiar with it, TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading.  It started out as a conference designed to bring together people from Technology, Entertainment and Design (T-E-D) and has since evolved into a global movement for sharing big ideas.  In addition to annual conferences in the US and UK (TEDGlobal), which bring together movers and shakers for inspiring talks of 18 minutes or less, TED sponsors local events (TEDx) and shares many of its videotaped talks via TEDTalks and TEDxTalks. (Among them: a 2009 talk by PatientsLikeMe Co-Founder Jamie Heywood, a 2010 talk by Paul Wicks and a 2011 talk by PatientsLikeMe Co-Founder Ben Heywood.)

Click Here to Read About the 20 Individuals Selected as TED2013 Fellows

The theme for the TED2013 conference is “The Young. The Wise.  The Undiscovered.”  Accordingly, this year’s class of TED Fellows represents “young innovators from around the globe, all with insightful, bold ideas that have the potential to influence our world.”  Paul is a perfect fit for this mission, having already been named one of the best young innovators under the age of 35 by MIT’s Technology Review as well as their “Humanitarian of the Year” in 2011.  We know he won’t stay “undiscovered” for long!

A big thanks goes to TEDGlobal 2012 Fellow Max Little, who nominated Paul for this prestigious opportunity.  An applied mathematician who is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at MIT, Max is working on a breakthrough technique to monitor – and potentially screen for – Parkinson’s disease through simple voice recordings.  Learn more about Max’s ingenious idea in his June 2012 TEDTalk below and stay tuned for more coverage of this trailblazing researcher in the coming weeks.