Smartphone App Can Help Diagnose Huntington’s Disease

May 21, 2019

Rare Daily Staff

Researchers at Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania have created a mobile application that they say helps recognize early symptoms of Huntington’s disease, a rare, progressive neurological disorder.

The Neural Impairment Test Suite app is a collection of various tests available to smartphone users on Google Play. The tasks on the app are designed to evaluate the user’s motor and cognitive skills to detect voice and energy consumption disorders. The app can also be used for the evaluation of other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Huntington’s disease causes uncontrolled movements, emotional problems, and loss of cognitive ability. If a parent has the gene, a child has a one in two chance of inheriting the disease. Adult-onset Huntington’s disease, the most common form of this disorder, usually appears in a person’s thirties or forties. Individuals with the adult-onset form of Huntington disease usually live about 15 to 20 years after signs and symptoms begin. A less common juvenile form of the disease begins in childhood or adolescence. It also involves movement problems and mental and emotional changes.

Early signs and symptoms of the disease can be difficult to notice. They include irritability, depression, small involuntary movements, poor coordination, and trouble learning new information or making decisions. The app, designed in cooperation with physicians and Huntington Disease Association, provides users with a series of tests in order to check the presence of the symptoms. If the probability of symptoms is detected, the user is informed and encouraged to contact medical professionals for further advice.

“Our app is aimed at the early detection. We are attempting to diagnose the disease when visually there are no symptoms,” said Andrius Lauraitis, KTU doctoral student who is developing the model for evaluating the prevalence Huntington’s disease symptoms.

Lauraitis’ doctoral dissertation supervisor Rytis Maskeliunas, professor of Informatics at KTU, said the intelligent app is not intended to replace medical diagnosis.

“Due to the hereditary nature of the disease a person might know that he or she is in a risk group, but it is not known when and if the disease will strike,” he said. “When the early symptoms are detected, the person is advised to contact a physician.”

While there is currently no treatment for Huntington’s disease, a patient can gain 3 to 16 years of healthy life if the disease is diagnosed early, Maskeliunas said.

Tests that are similar to the app are used in diagnostic practice today but provided on paper. This is the first attempt to digitize it. Depending on the degree of risk of developing the disease, the user can take the test once a week or more often. The individual’s performance is stored in the user’s profile.

The researchers said they are planning to expand the concept and the applicability of the prediction model so it could be used for other diseases.

To learn more about this and other rare disease innovations, please read the Global Genes report, NEXT: Imagining the Future of Rare Disease.

Photo: The app developed by researchers at KTU in Lithuania can evaluate a user’s motor, cognitive skills, to detect certain neurological conditions. Credit Juste Suminaite/KTU

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