Monitoring Cognitive Performance Using Smart Devices: Interview with Maha Radhakrishnan, CMO, Biogen

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Biogen, a medtech company based in Massachusetts, has announced that is partnering with Apple in a research study to determine if it is possible to identify and develop biomarkers of cognitive decline, using data from smart devices, including the iPhone and Apple Watch.

Biogen has a neuroscience focus, and the company hopes that it may be possible to identify the early signs of mild cognitive impairment, which is an early indicator of some forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. The study, which launches later this year, will run over several years and Biogen will recruit participants of different ages and cognitive abilities.

The signs of mild cognitive impairment can often be subtle, but identifying them early could mean that someone can take steps to slow or halt progression, potentially leading to better outcomes in the long run. Using smart device data to monitor this is an intriguing idea, and it will be interesting to see the results of the study.

Medgadget had the opportunity to speak with Maha Radhakrishnan, Chief Medical Officer at Biogen, about the upcoming study.   

Conn Hastings, Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the burden that dementia poses for patients and society.

Maha Radhakrishnan, Biogen: Conservative estimates show that Alzheimer’s directly affects over 5 million Americans as well as millions of family members and loved ones who act as caregivers. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2020 Alzheimer’s and other dementias may have cost the nation $305 billion, including $206 billion in Medicare and Medicaid payments. Part of this cost is due to the fact that older people living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias need more skilled nursing facility stays and home health care visits per year than other older people. For older adults, cognitive health is becoming increasingly recognized as an important component of overall health. Significant delays exist in identifying declines in cognitive health including mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which impacts approximately 15–20 percent of adults over the age of 65. For healthcare systems, advancements in cognitive biomarkers from large-scale studies could contribute significantly to screening and early intervention efforts that may improve population-based health outcomes and lower costs to health systems.

Medgadget: What are the benefits of identifying mild cognitive impairment early? Might someone be able to reduce their chances of progressing to more severe impairment or even dementia?

Maha Radhakrishnan: Improving our understanding of the pattern of cognitive impairment in early-stage disease may enable the acceleration of accurate diagnosis of MCI and may enable early intervention. Earlier accurate diagnosis may improve the diagnostic and treatment journey for patients, which may lead to better health outcomes and reduced overall lifetime healthcare costs in the future. Currently, significant delays exist in identifying declines in cognitive health including MCI, which impacts approximately 15–20 percent of adults over the age of 65.

Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the upcoming study.

Maha Radhakrishnan: The study, in collaboration with Apple, is intended to investigate the role Apple Watch and iPhone could play in monitoring cognitive performance and screening for decline in cognitive health including MCI, with the goal of identifying digital biomarkers derived from a person’s everyday use of an Apple Watch and iPhone. The digital biomarkers will be designed based on insights derived from the study.

We also anticipate the study may help answer other questions related to cognition and aging. These additional research topics will be disclosed to study participants as part of the informed consent process. We will provide more details about the study prior to study launch.

Medgadget: How will the study deal with user privacy and data security?

Maha Radhakrishnan: Ensuring data privacy and security is paramount to both Biogen and Apple. The study has been designed with customer privacy, control and transparency in mind as well as data security. Prior to completing any study assessments, participants will complete a detailed consent form listing the collected data types and how they may be used and shared. Study participants can withdraw from the study at any time, which will end any future data collection. Data will be stored in an encrypted manner and in systems with strong security controls designed to protect the data.

Medgadget: How do you see this type of technology developing in the future? Do you envisage our phones or watches routinely alerting us to various types of health issues?

Maha Radhakrishnan: This type of innovation may enhance the understanding of the aging brain and therefore may ultimately help us understand how to maintain and improve brain health throughout adulthood. Biomarkers derived from a person’s everyday use of an Apple Watch and iPhone is an exciting prospect as it may allow for low burden consumer cognitive health monitoring. 

Link: Biogen homepage…





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