4 posts tagged “Timothy Vaughan”

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


A Day in the Life of PatientsLikeMe Research Scientist Timothy Vaughan

Posted April 20th, 2012 by

What’s it like to work at PatientsLikeMe?  We are continuing to reveal just that with our monthly blog series “A Day in the Life,” which features employees from different departments.  So far, we’ve interviewed User Experience Engineer Cris Necochea, Research Assistant Shivani Bhargava and Office Manager Alison Dutton.  Today we hear from Research Scientist Timothy Vaughan, who earned his PhD in physics before deciding to focus his simulation and modeling skills on medical questions.

1.  What research projects are you working on at the moment?

I am working on a few different things. My primary focus recently has been on modeling multiple sclerosis (MS). As just about anyone with the disease can tell you, MS is a highly complex, highly variable illness. To even get a good description of the experience of a patient is a challenge. As one of the “mathy” people at PatientsLikeMe, my job is to try to make the description as systematic and quantitative as possible, because mathematical relationships are often the best tools in trying to solve the underlying puzzle of what the body is doing.

PatientsLikeMe Research Scientist Timothy Vaughan, PhD

So, for example, I have recently been looking at some of the ways that symptoms and the Multiple Sclerosis Rating Scale (MSRS) are interrelated, which may help us understand how functioning and symptoms go together. And, although I am focusing on MS, I am constantly struck by how certain concepts seem to apply across conditions, so I am hopeful that we can learn things that will ultimately help all our patients.

2.  Tell us how computer simulation and modeling help you do your job.

It is fair to say that my job would not even exist without computer simulation and modeling! Partly because clinical trials and other scientific methodologies have become so expensive and time-consuming, scientists in healthcare have to really become creative in trying to learn more about patients and their conditions. Simulations and modeling are becoming essential tools in the era of “big data” that PatientsLikeMe is at the forefront of.

3.  What do you see ahead in terms of PatientsLikeMe’s research potential?

I have to quote the Danish physicist Niels Bohr: “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” I think almost everyone in healthcare right now believes that patient-reported outcomes are going to be of greater and greater influence in the future…but no one is 100% certain how!

In many ways, research is forced to be in a somewhat opportunistic position, because one is never quite sure where the most promising frontiers are, where one is most likely to discover something interesting and useful for patients. But our research potential really stems from our patients. Their willingness to share how they are doing, in so many ways, gives us potential to not just work on what appears to be interesting now, but to quickly respond to new directions that might arise in the future.

4.  What are the three best things about working at PatientsLikeMe?

For me personally, the best thing about PatientsLikeMe is that every morning I wake up knowing that everything I work on is not just scientifically “interesting” (although I like that!), but also really has the potential to help patients’ lives. So, even though the work can be frustrating at times, it is always worthwhile.

The second awesome thing, and it’s almost a cliché to say around is here, is that the people here are so passionate and smart and great to work (and play!) with. Seeing other people working hard and caring deeply about what they do is a great motivation.  The third awesome thing: Alison makes sure there is a constant supply of York Peppermint Patties in the kitchen.