New Smartphone App Able to Recognize Early Symptoms of Huntington’s Disease

Iqra Mumal, MSc avatar

by Iqra Mumal, MSc |

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A newly developed smartphone application, called the Neural Impairment Test Suite app, can run a series of tests and calculate the probability that a user is displaying early symptoms of Huntington’s disease.

Developed by a group of researchers at the Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) in Lithuania, the app can then inform users whether they should contact a medical professional for further evaluation and advice.

Huntington’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder associated with involuntary movements, cognitive issues, and emotional problems. The most common form of Huntington’s is adult-onset, which typically develops when people are in their 30s or 40s.

However, while individuals at risk can get genetically tested to determine whether they will develop the disease, they do not know exactly when their symptoms will manifest.

“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. When the early symptoms are detected, the person is advised to contact a physician,” Rytis Maskeliūnas, a professor of informatics at KTU, said in a press release.

According to the researchers, the app does not replace a physician’s diagnosis, but the advantage lies in that it can identify symptoms of the disease before any clinical manifestations appear.

“Our app is aimed at the early detection — we are attempting to diagnose the disease when visually there are no symptoms,” said Andrius Lauraitis, a PhD student at KTU.

The app was evaluated in the study, “A smartphone application for automated decision support in cognitive task based evaluation of central nervous system motor disorders,” published earlier this year in the IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics, which showed it can support doctors with additional results that are easy to compare with other examinations.

Early symptoms of Huntington’s disease include feeling irritable and depressed, small involuntary movements, loss of coordination and balance, and cognitive issues, all of which are difficult to notice, vague, and may be caused by several different diseases.

The Neural Impairment Test Suite app is designed to support an earlier diagnosis of Huntington’s disease through the use of a variety of tests that evaluate the user’s motor skills and cognitive skills, and detects voice and energy consumption disorders.

These types of tests are used in medical practice, but are usually done on paper. By digitizing the tests, users can take them more frequently.

Additionally, the application can also be used for the early diagnosis of other neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia.

The Neural Impairment Test Suite application is free and available on Google play.

“We didn’t want to use any sensors which people would need to carry in their pocket. All that is required for taking this test is a usual smartphone or a tablet. In the future we are planning to have an invisible tool, which would monitor and evaluate your condition based on how you are using your phone, according to your movements, and similar parameters,” Maskeliūnas said.