AI bodysuit trial launched to help treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy

Duchenne muscular dystrophy research at Imperial (Martin Sayers/Imperial College London)

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A new artificially intelligent bodysuit to help understand how mobility is affected in boys with Duchenne will be trialled in a collaboration between researchers at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and Imperial College London.

A new artificially intelligent bodysuit to help understand how mobility is affected in boys with Duchenne will be trialled in a collaboration between researchers at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and Imperial College London.

The study, which has been awarded £320,000 from the Duchenne Research Fund, could help doctors make better treatment decisions for the condition. The trial will be led by Imperial researchers who will work with GOSH to develop and test a body suit that measures movements through everyday life in a number of boys with and without Duchenne.

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a genetic muscle wasting disease that begins in childhood and mainly affects boys. It usually results in patients being unable to walk by age 12, and carries an average life expectancy of around 30 years. In the UK, 2,500 people currently live with the disease, and despite significant recent developments in treatment options, there is no cure for Duchenne.

A collaborative study

The funding will support a clinical trial lasting 12 months, during which time the children will wear the suit on selected days, allowing it to measure how their body interacts with the world around them. Patients will also wear fitness tracker bracelets throughout the trial which will collect data on everyday movements.

Children will be treated at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Facility at GOSH, overseen by Professor Thomas Voit and Dr Valeria Ricotti. The GOSH team will work with principal investigator Dr Aldo Faisal from the Departments of Computing and Bioengineering at Imperial.

The bodysuit and tracker sensors will feed data back in real time, allowing the team to use artificial intelligence to make sense of the data patterns and ascertain whether a new treatment regime is working. From there, doctors can make better informed decisions on treatment. It will also cut down on the amount of time taken to test new treatments, which will drive down the costs of future clinical trials.

Professor Thomas Voit, Director of the NIHR GOSH Biomedical Research Centre said “We are very excited about this innovative project in collaboration with Imperial. We face huge challenges with drug development for degenerative diseases of the neuromuscular system, because disease progression is slow and it takes a long time to establish if a therapy is working. Currently clinicians gauge a patient’s mobility and motor capacity against scales rather than using permanently quantifiable measures. However 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 Duchenne muscular dystrophy”.

Personal neurologist

Dr Faisal, from the Departments of both Computing and Bioengineering at Imperial, said: “The suit is like having your own personal neurologist studying you all day and night. We hope it will decrease the time it takes to figure out if a new treatment is working so that new treatment options are more quickly available. With this vital research we want to help complement or even replace classic monitoring methods and help to improve the quality of life and options available to these children.”

A version of this article was originally published on Imperial College London's website. Video produced by Martin Sayers/Imperial College London.