The U.K.-based Duchenne Research Fund has granted £320,000 ($441,760) to researchers at Imperial College London to develop a bodysuit that may improve treatment decisions in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).
The fund aims to help foster the development of new treatments for DMD by establishing collaborations between scientists, charities, and biotech companies. Scientists will use the money to create and test a bodysuit that tracks patients’ movements during everyday activities and helps evaluate their mobility and motor capacity.
The research team will conduct a 12-month clinical study in boys with or without DMD. Participants will wear the bodysuit 24/7 on selected days. The device will provide the researchers with real-time data. Using artificial intelligence, the scientists will be able to manage disease progression and evaluate the effectiveness of new treatments, which may help them reach better-informed clinical decisions.
The project also will enable faster testing of new therapies, reducing the costs of clinical studies.
“Wearing the suit will be like having your own personal neurologist studying you day and night. We hope it will lessen the time it takes to figure out if a new treatment is working so that new treatment options are more quickly available,” A. Aldo Faisal, PhD, said in a press release. Faisal is with the Departments of Bioengineering and Computing at Imperial College London.
The progression of DMD is highly variable and is currently tracked “by eye.” The bodysuit would provide an objective measuring tool in a real-world setting that has the additional advantage of generating patient-specific information. By complementing or even replacing the classic assessment methods in DMD, the project ultimately may improve patients’ quality of life.
“In this project we will develop devices empowered by artificial intelligence that can automatically assess patients in a real-world setting and thereby significantly accelerate drug development for [DMD],” said Thomas Voit, MD, co-leader of the research and director of the NIHR Great Ormond Street Hospital Biomedical Research Centre.
DMD is a slowly progressive genetic disorder characterized by muscle degeneration and weakness. The condition is caused by absence of a protein called dystrophin and primarily affects boys. Symptom onset is usually between ages 3 and 5. The average life expectancy for DMD patients is 26 years. The condition affects one in 3,500 newborn boys worldwide.