The tech giant said this week it is partnering with Novartis (NYSE:NVS) to develop a system for assessing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis using its Kinect system, which is more commonly used for motion controlled video games.
The Redmond, Wash.-based company said it was approached by Novartis, who has been working for years to find a way to consistently quantify the benefit of treatments it is developing for multiple sclerosis. The path, so far, has been complicated.
Assessing the progress of multiple sclerosis can be difficult. While there are standards sets of tests for patients with MS, such as touching their nose with outstretched arms, the results are always interpreted by humans, which lack direct objectivity and detailed clinical accuracy.
“One of the most difficult things about MS is the uncertainty of it,” Microsoft researcher Cecily Morrison said in a Microsoft news release.
Morrison has spent the last few years working on the collaborative project, dubbed Assess MS, which aims to use the Kinect’s computer vision to create a system that returns more consistent readings on patient performance during MS progress tests.
A more accurate and consistent assessment of the disease’s progress could, in turn, speed up treatment for patients.
“The clinicians that we worked with really care about their patients. They really want what’s best for them, and even the best neurologist will admit that when they use these rating scales, it’s pretty coarse-grained. They know that there’s a lot of variability, even in their own judgments, over time,” Microsoft principal researcher Abigail Sellen said in a Microsoft news release.
Microsoft said its researchers have focused on developing new algorithms for the Kinect device to detect more subtle movements, which would be important during the assessment of MS progression.
The project has been fruitful, as Microsoft said that researchers have developed a proof of concept of the device, working with a limited number of patients.
The development team’s next step is to use the system in broader practice, to see how it handles a larger number of patients.
“Novartis is leveraging digital technologies to transform patient care and drug development. We are excited about our collaboration with Microsoft Research to develop Assess MS, a more consistent way to measure motor dysfunctions caused by multiple sclerosis, which could lead to the development of better therapies and care for patients,” Novartis Pharma global development head Vas Narasimhan said in prepared remarks.