Parkinson's detection research by Cobargo mature-age student a possible world first

A retiree doing distance education from little Cobargo has achieved what the rest of the world has so far been unable.

Warwick Adams is an information technology  PhD student with Charles Sturt University and this week published a paper describing his potentially world-first technique to detect Parkinson’s disease.

The paper has already drawn interest from across the globe, with Parkinson’s notoriously difficult to diagnose accurately, particularly early in its development.

Mr Adams said his research has found a method to analyse the patterns in a person’s finger movement as they type on a computer, accurately detecting Parkinson’s even in early onset. 

Cobargo-based PhD student at Charles Sturt Uni Warwick Adams.

Cobargo-based PhD student at Charles Sturt Uni Warwick Adams.

“The test has a 97 per cent accuracy rate, which significantly out-performs general practitioners, who often have quite a high misdiagnosis rate of Parkinson’s,” Mr Adams told Fairfax Media this week.

“The problem is that there are no laboratory tests and, until now, diagnosis has relied on observation of a person’s movement where the initial signs can be quite subtle.

“The significance of this new technique is that it’s not only much more accurate, but it can be used in a home environment and does not require supervision by a medical specialist,” he said. 

Parkinson’s disease affects an estimated 110,000 Australians, primarily over the age of 60, and there are over six million sufferers world-wide.

It’s a progressive neurological condition with no known cause and currently no cure. It’s renowned for the tremors that affect some sufferers but other symptoms of the movement disorder include muscle rigidity, posture instability and changes in sensory input and other neurological problems.

“Parkinson’s is an interesting area as it’s so hard to diagnose - people can have it for a decade before they show outward symptoms enough for diagnosis,” Mr Adams said.

“By that time they’ve lost half their brain function.”

Mr Adams said there was already a great wealth of research into typing as it has been around for centuries. 

However, as it was applied to Parkinson’s research through statistics and machine learning, Mr Adams said the focus was rather narrow.

MIT researchers investigate motor function impairment through typing patterns

Instead he approached it understanding a wide variety of variables that are involved in someone typing on a keyboard, from the speed of pressing keys, to individual finger movements.

“The uniqueness [of my research] is considering the combination of all these,” he said.

Mr Adams has already applied for a patent to protect his concept, which he plans to develop into a full diagnostic suite that can be accessed via the web. 

He added that, once developed, it has enormous world-wide commercial potential, “but as a 68-year-old retiree I am more concerned with giving back to the community”. 

“The benefits will be an earlier detection of Parkinson’s, as well as the ability to monitor the effects of medication and the progression of the disease over time,” Mr Adams said.