3 posts tagged “tim 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


PatientsLikeMe Researchers Score a Hat Trick

Posted July 11th, 2012 by

The term “hat trick” originated in 1858 after English cricketer HH Stephenson successfully bowled out three batsmen with consecutive bowls and he was presented with a hat to commemorate his feat. In June, PatientsLikeMe’s research team scored a hat trick of our own by publishing three new studies in scientific journals in just four days, bringing our total number of published studies to 27.

An Image from the Third Published Study in Our June Hat Trick:  "Mining Social Network Data for Biomedical Research"

As employees at a start-up company, we all wear many hats – literally, as you can see from the photos below, and figuratively, in terms of our responsibilities as scientists, product developers and business people across different disease areas. For instance, in this trio of papers, we address research issues in multiple sclerosis (MS), ALS and mood disorders. Click on the study titles below to read the full papers and a big thank you to all of our patients for sharing your voices and making this research possible.

Monday, June 18th – First PatientsLikeMe study published.

The multiple sclerosis rating scale, revised (MSRS-R): Development, refinement, and psychometric validation using an online community

Members of our MS community will be familiar with the MS Rating Scale (MSRS), which is their primary outcome measure. We developed it a few years ago to address an unmet need for a brief, easy-to-use rating tool that covered more areas than simply walking. In collaboration with a neurologist, we sketched out our first version of the MSRS, which has now been used over 90,000 times by our 28,000+ MS members to share your progress, track your relapses and disability, and gain insight into how your treatments are working.

PatientsLikeMe Research Scientist Dr. Tim Vaughan

Published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, this new study describes work to improve the MSRS to a revised version (the MSRS-R) and establish that the instrument measures what it is supposed to measure (reliability), that it correlates well with other instruments (concurrent validity) and that it allows differences between groups of patients (sensitivity to change). This process of “validating” a patient-reported outcome (PRO) is an important step in increasing the value of the data that we produce for researchers. Studies are underway right now to continue improving the instrument and compare it to doctors’ ratings of patient disability.

As with all outcome measures we develop at PatientsLikeMe, we have licensed the MSRS-R for anyone to use freely in their own research studies. This work also serves as a foundation for our resident predictive modeler and particle physicist Dr. Tim Vaughan to begin work on predicting the course of an individual patient’s disease using your MSRS scores!

Tuesday, June 19th – Second PatientsLikeMe study published.

E-mental health: A medium reaches maturity

PatientsLikeMe Research & Development Director Dr. Paul Wicks

The Internet has transformed many aspects of healthcare in the past decade, and to open a special issue on “E-Mental Health” in the Journal of Mental Health, our R&D Director Dr. Paul Wicks was commissioned to write a special editorial.

Available by clicking the link above, the paper describes the progress of online systems for people with mental health issues, from government-provided resources (such as this UK NHS Choices site about self-harm) to commercial, computerized cognitive-behavioral therapy programs like “Beating the Blues” and collaborations between different sectors of the health system. For instance, in the UK if you Google “suicide” there is a special message from the Samaritans mental health support service right at the top of the page.

At PatientsLikeMe, our vibrant mood community has been active since 2008, and our published research has shown that it provides improved outcomes to many of our members.

Thursday, June 21st – Third PatientsLikeMe study published.  Hat trick completed.

Mining Online Social Network Data for Biomedical Research: A Comparison of Clinicians’ and Patients’ Perceptions About Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Treatments

As you probably know, the story of PatientsLikeMe starts with ALS and trying to find treatments that can improve the symptoms, including anxiety, stiffness, or constipation. Back in 2003, ALS nurse Dallas Forshew and Dr. Mark Bromberg published a small study describing massive variation in the way ALS doctors from 39 specialist centers treat the symptoms of ALS. This data was also described in our 2010 TEDx Berkshires talk about the value of crowd-sourced data.

PatientsLikeMe Research Assistant/Software Engineer Shivani Bhargava

In this new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, we collaborated with researchers at the University of Utah to compare the passively collected ALS patient data from our system with what the clinicians said. Although they agreed in most areas, there were split opinions too, particularly when it came to the perceived level of efficacy that these treatments had. Click the link above to read more.

This paper is also notable for being our own Shivani Bhargava’s very first scientific publication! Shivani started with us as an intern, then became a research assistant, and has recently made a career change to start studying as a software engineer. A true renaissance woman!