Protxx, University Join to Study Sensor in Identifying MS Biomarkers

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by Vanda Pinto, PhD |

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Protxx and the University of Victoria are partnering to explore digital biomarkers for multiple sclerosis (MS) that may improve monitoring of disease progression, and facilitate more personalized care and a better quality of life.

The digital biomarkers are based on motion vibrations picked up by Protxx’s wearable “phybrata” sensor, which detects slight and involuntary body movement and leverages machine learning algorithms to identify and quantify impairments. Information collected can then be shared with the patient’s healthcare provider.

Research to investigate whether these vibration signals might used as biomarkers to improve MS diagnosis and treatment was detailed at Digital Health Week, held Nov. 29 to Dec. 5.

Study details were in the virtual poster, “PROTXX wearable sensors: one step closer to bringing low-cost, equitable, and personalized (home) care to patients with Multiple Sclerosis,” presented by its lead author Sepideh Heydari, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

The rate of MS is exceptionally high in Canada, where an estimated 90,000 people live with this condition. MS is one of the main causes of brain disorders for people between the ages of 20 and 40 in that country.

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which detects damage in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), is the standard imaging tool for diagnosing and following the development of MS. However, MRIs can be expensive and hard to access.

Protxx, a healthcare technology company, developed a wearable sensor that could potentially monitor disease symptoms by collecting and examining physiological vibration acceleration (phybrata) data.

The sensor, attached behind the patient’s ear, connects wirelessly to a smartphone app to collect data, which is then uploaded onto cloud-based services for analysis using machine learning algorithms.

This study aims to evaluate the relationship between phybrata data, brain lesions, and symptoms associated with MS.

Data will be collected from 50 MS patients in two sessions. The first session will gather information on how well the patient’s brain is working using neuropsychological assessments and questionnaires. In the second session, the Protxx sensor will collect phybrata data while patients go about activities such as sitting, walking, or standing. MRI scans will also be performed to assess brain lesions.

Researchers expect that the intensity and frequency of the motion vibrations could be used to differentiate between normal and MS-related vibration signals. Phybrata data may also provide information on the presence and location of brain lesions.

“We expect the phybrata sensor data to show a strong relationship with brain lesions and symptoms of cognitive, mood and fatigue associated with MS,” Heydari said in a press release.

Study results will help to inform the design and optimization of the system’s machine learning engine, intended to provide doctors with “quantitative recommendations” for patient care, she added in the presentation.

Specific and accurate digital biomarkers would allow better monitoring of patients from the home — which is particularly important for people with mobility problems — as well as more frequent assessments and tailored care. Use of the Protxx sensor could also potentially lower the healthcare costs of MS.

While this study marks a first investigation into its usefulness in MS patients, the sensor was “shown to be effective in conditions like stroke, concussion and Parkinson’s disease,” Heydari said in the presentation.

Also on the research team are Jodie Gawryluk, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Victoria, and John Ralston, PhD, CEO and founder of Protxx.

“Our research partnership with Dr. Gawryluk and Dr. Heydari and their colleagues at the University of Victoria adds world class expertise in MS diagnostic imaging and clinical treatment to the development, validation, and eventual commercialization of an important new medical device innovation,” Ralston said.

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