Can technology help predict your risk for Alzheimer’s disease years or decades before symptoms of dementia appear? One San Antonio team is working to do just that using deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze a video taken in your doctor’s office.
Rick Morris is the San Antonio-based entrepreneur who founded GaitIQ, an early-stage digital health Software as a Service (SaaS) company in 2017. The GaitIQ cloud-based platform will give healthcare providers an affordable, easy-to-use application to measure a patient’s gait. The technology leverages machine vision, AI, and big data analytics to evaluate subtle changes in the way a person walks that have been linked to the risk for dementia.
Changes in gait are important early warning sign of cognitive decline and emerge as early as decades before memory symptoms occur. Early detection provides opportunities for medical intervention and lifestyle changes that could slow or even reverse the progress of the underlying disease that leads to the devastating symptoms of dementia.
Morris envisions GaitIQ as a personalized risk screening in the early stages of the disease that would help doctors decide whether further diagnostic or preventive intervention is needed. The physician, using an internet-connected tablet during an office visit, would videotape a patient’s walk using the GaitIQ application, with results classifying the patient’s gait available within five minutes.
“It takes half a day and three specialists in a gait lab to complete a quantitative gait analysis,” Morris said. “The cost is prohibitive, so providers and their patients are not getting the benefit of the existing clinical research.”
GaitIQ Addresses Need for Early Detection in Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease is a public health and looming financial crisis. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that the disease will affect 16 million people and cost the U.S. health care system one trillion dollars by 2050. Yet, fewer than 50 percent of patients are ever diagnosed.
Researchers are focused on early detection so patients can be treated more effectively when lifestyle and drug interventions are better at slowing the disease’s progression. Healthcare providers typically recognize Alzheimer’s in a patient only after family members report late-stage symptoms like memory loss, mood swings, and personality changes, once the brain is so damaged that treatment is no longer effective.
A University of Southern California study revealed the value of early intervention. Delaying the onset of dementia by five years could reduce the projected 2050 healthcare costs by 40 percent and increase a patient’s lifespan by 2.7 years.
“Catching Alzheimer’s early works because treatment and lifestyle changes are most likely to be effective 15 to 20 years before symptoms that affect activities of daily life occur,” Morris said.
San Antonio Collaboration Yields Winning Team
Morris is a serial entrepreneur who came to San Antonio in 2015 from San Diego, California. He first worked at Duke University Medical Center with the team of physicians and engineers who developed the first wireless monitoring systems for patients undergoing open-heart surgery. This early experience in medical technology informed Morris over his 30 years managing software and hardware system development and product commercialization in networking, telecommunications, healthcare, and home entertainment industries.
After Morris lost his mentor to Alzheimer’s, he recognized artificial intelligence and deep learning technologies could be applied to the problem of early detection. Morris secured a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institutes of Aging in September 2018 to fund early stage development of the GaitIQ application.
Morris discovered the experts needed from various disciplines to develop a digital health diagnostic tool all worked in San Antonio. The GaitIQ team draws upon specialized expertise from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), and UT Health San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio).
GaitIQ system engineer and data scientist Barbara Schnan Mastronardi is developing the algorithms and analytics while Slidewave’s David Daeschler is designing the application. Jeff Prevost, an assistant professor and co-director of The Open Cloud Institute at The University of Texas at San Antonio, is consulting on system scalability and performance.
The SwRI Human Performance Initiative team develops advanced markerless motion capture technology using biomechanics, machine vision, and artificial intelligence and provided research that was included in the successful SBIR grant application.
“This research collaboration allows us to apply our advanced technology towards the goal of improving human health and performance and also highlights San Antonio’s collaborative and robust biomedical R&D community,” said Dr. Dan Nicolella, a SwRI engineer and manager of musculoskeletal biomechanics.
UT Health San Antonio’s clinician-scientists are contributing their specialized medical expertise. Dr. Sudha Seshadri is the founding director of the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases and a consultant for GaitIQ. Dr. Seshadri and assistant professor of research Dr. Mini Jacob are helping to validate the software in a clinical setting and identifying potential users for the tool. Dr. Carlos Jaramillo, assistant professor and director of resident research for traumatic brain injury in San Antonio’s Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, is the primary investigator for the human subjects testing component of the diagnostic tool.
“Research has confirmed a robust association between gait and cognition,” Seshadri said. The GaitIQ technology “has great potential to have a paradigm-shifting impact on clinical screening for dementia.”
Morris plans to apply for a phase II SBIR grant in 2019 and is looking for early-stage investors to accelerate product and business development.
“The uniquely collaborative research organizations and deep healthcare expertise available in San Antonio make it a great place for those who are interested in bold innovation with advanced technologies in healthcare. “Morris said.“San Antonio turned out to be the perfect place to launch GaitIQ.” Click To Tweet
Featured image is of some GaitIQ team members at the Glenn Biggs Institute. From left: Sudah Seshadri, M.D., Rick Morris, and Carlos Jaramillo, M.D., Ph.D. Photo credit: UT Health San Antonio.