Revolutionising the care of brain disorders with mobile technology

NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre is supporting RADAR-CNS (Remote Assessment of Disease and Relapse – Central Nervous System), a 5-year international research project examining the potential of smartphone technology and consumer wearable devices such as FitBit to manage and treat brain disorders like multiple sclerosis (MS), epilepsy, and depression.

RADAR-CNS is one of the largest remote disease-monitoring studies in Europe, and will recruit around 1500 individuals with brain disorders. The hope is that with increased and better quality data, doctors will be able to pre-empt and intervene to prevent relapses in patients before they occur, or at least improve their symptoms and quality of life.

Established in April 2016, and led jointly by King’s College London and Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, RADAR-CNS has a 25 million Euro budget from The Innovative Medicines Initiative. It brings together some of the leading clinicians, researchers, device engineers, computer scientists, and data analysts from 23 organisations across Europe and the USA.

Working with technology partners including Intel and SoftwareAG, the aim is to build an open source infrastructure for collecting and processing data from mobile devices to identify biomarkers that predict relapse or deterioration (eg, changes in sleep, physical activity, cognition, memory). Although the focus of this study is on MS, epilepsy, and depression, the platform has been designed to be easily adapted to other diseases like bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s disease, and to accommodate new devices as they appear on the market.

Patients and carers are being involved in RADAR-CNS from the start—helping to identify the most important symptoms to target. This involvement will continue, and patients will help researchers to design and develop user-friendly technologies that also protect privacy and security. Wherever possible, the researchers aim to use inexpensive and widely available technology. This will help ensure that the end results are made available to as many people as possible.

A variety of technical challenges exist. For epilepsy, for example, the challenge is to find portable sensors that can register seizures on users’ smart phones (since the gold standard video ECG is not portable). For MS, the challenge is that individuals in more advanced stages are not very mobile and might have difficulty putting on devices and charging them.

RADAR-CNS is a major step in developing new ways of monitoring people with brain disorders. Ultimately, this will improve patients’ quality of life and make treatments more effective.