Rallying to the Challenge – 2015

We recently attended our second Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s research conference hosted by the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, MI.  Again this year The Cure Parkinson’s Trust (UK) and Parkinson’s Movement(UK) sponsored the Rallying to the Challenge meeting which is conducted in conjunction with the research conference and provides an opportunity for researchers, patients and caregivers to exchange information. The theme for this year’s Rally was “Outcomes and Measures, a new look at Measuring Parkinson’s” and, as you will see, we had a very full two day agenda.

Tom Isaacs, co-founder of the Cure Parkinson’s Trust, opened our portion of the meeting saying that together we are making a seismic shift for better research, research that includes the patient and the patient’s needs.  As a result of last years Rally a ‘Clinical Trials Charter’ (click here to view the charter) was developed as a cooperative effort by patients and researchers.  A UK multi-center clinical trial has adopted the charter for their research which will provide a real-world test and a stepping stone to wider adoption.  We were amazed to see how our efforts from just a year ago have paid off in the cooperative development of this charter by patients and researchers. (Read the post from last year here)

Tom then discussed this year’s Challenge – How do we improve outcomes and measures in clinical trials?  The emphasis again this year was on improving the patient experience and introducing patient centered change to the research process.  In addition we will discuss how data gathered from new technology, (wearable sensors, smartphone apps, etc) can provide new measures and improve some of the current measures.

Jon Palfreman, PwP and author of the recently released “Brain Storms – The Race to Unlock the Mysteries of Parkinson’s Disease” pointed out that the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) is primarily subjective and provides only a snapshot of the symptoms you are having when administered, usually 1 or 2 times a year during your Dr. visit.  Ideally, with the advent of wearable sensors and other technology, you should be able to provide a picture of your symptoms for the entire period between Dr. visits and get real time feedback yourself.

Dr. Soania Mathur and Dr. Jon Stamford reviewed the results of this year’s survey about the symptoms of PD which have the most important impact  quality of life. Interestingly, out of 492 responses to the survey not one respondent listed their top five symptoms in the same order. In fact, if you look at this slide from the final presentation, I count 28 symptoms that were brought up when answering the question “What symptoms most affect your quality of life?” This slide certainly points out that PD is truly different for each of us.

The top symptoms in both categories were put into smaller groupings and we broke out into focus groups to discuss how to improve measurement of our set of symptoms. Every focus group not only developed ideas for measuring symptoms, but also came up with tips and tricks for dealing with the issue, for example walking backwards to relax dystonia of the foot.

The next morning, we had an almost overwhelming number of presentations about new technological devices that will help measure PD symptoms when on or off medication.  Presenter’s included Ken Kubota from Michael J Fox Foundation (Fox Insight Wearable Trial), Anupam Pathak Ph.D. from Google (the Lyft spoon), Bruce Hellman (uMotif Smartphone app now available in the UK and coming soon to the US and Canada) and Caroline Tanner (mPower also a smartphone app developed from the SmartPhone PD clinical test I participated in)

We also had presentations from a Davis Phinney Foundation representative about a social networking program they are developing, one from Peter Schmidt of NPF about their Parkinson’s Outcome Project (another one I am participating in) and from Eli Pollard executive director of World Parkinson’s Coalition  about PowerThroughParkinson’s, a program they are bringing out with the Brian Grant Foundation that encourages PwP to commit to exercise and eat right.

Day Two also included a presentation from the renowned Parkinson’s Doctor and researcher Bas Bloem from the Netherlands about Parkinson’sNet, a program he helped develop in the Netherlands 10 years ago and which has been implemented in LA area and soon in Grand Rapids.  ParkinsonNet has one goal: to guarantee the best possible care
for people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.The program has been extremely successful in providing expert care while also reducing costs.

We then reconvened with the researchers and Tom Isaacs and other members of Parkinson’s Movement made a presentation of the results of our meeting and the need for patient involvement in the development of measures that would be the:

  • Right Measure – developed with the end user as a partner
  • Right Person – measure what is important to the person
  • Right Situation – don’t forgot off periods and how PD changes

In addition to meeting old friends and making new ones, we also enjoyed the exhibition of photos by Norwegian Photographer Andres Leines entitled “This is Parkinson’s”.  Andres has early onset PD and has been taking pictures of other EOPD patients to point out that Parkinson’s is not just tremors and doesn’t just effect seniors. You can view some of the photos in this excellent YouTube video.

And finally, the Michael J Fox Foundation just announced that the Fox Clinical Trial Program has exceeded 50,000 registered volunteers!  In case you’re not one of us, click on the big shiny button at the top of this page and sign up!  Thanks.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius


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