Researchers use Avatar’s motion AI tech to track rare diseases

The technology can detect disorders up to six months earlier than a doctor.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Avatar uses motion tracking technology to animate its characters.

Film Spot/YouTube 

Researchers are using motion capture artificial intelligence technology that brings characters to life in films like Avatar to track the onset of diseases which affect movement, according to a report by the BBC published on Sunday.

The new system uses artificial intelligence to analyze body movements and diagnose disorders twice as quickly as the best doctors.

Dr Valeria Ricotti, part of the team that is working on the new development, told BBC News that she was "completely blown away by the results".

"The impact on diagnosis and developing new drugs for a wide range of diseases could be absolutely massive."

A tried and tested system in development for 10 years

The system has been in development for 10 years and has been tested on patients with Friedreich's ataxia (FA) and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) in two separate studies. 

Prof Aldo Faisal of Imperial College, who was one of the scientists who conceived of the idea, said it offers many benefits over traditional methods of diagnosis.

"Our new approach detects subtle movements that humans can't pick up on," he said. "It has the capability to transform clinical trials as well as improve diagnosis and monitoring for patients."

It also has the potential to speed up drug trials and lower their costs.

Professor Paola Giunti, Head of UCL's Ataxia Centre said: "We will be able to trial more drugs with less patients at a lower cost."

''This is going to attract the pharmaceutical industry to invest in rare diseases," added Professor Richard Festenstein from the Medical Research Council's London Institute of Medical Sciences who aided in the development of the new tech.

"The main beneficiary from our research is going to be patients, because the technology is going to be able to come up with new treatments much more quickly.''

The main advantage of the system is its advanced speedy predictive abilities.

A team at Imperial College tested it on patients with FA and found that it could predict the worsening of the disease over twelve months, over half the time it would normally take an industry expert.

Another team at Great Ormond Street tested it on 21 boys with DMD and found it could predict how their movement would be affected six months in the future much more accurately than a doctor.

Early diagnosis crucial to disease monitoring

There is currently no cure for either FA or DMD and early diagnosis is crucial for monitoring the diseases. FA affects one in 50,000 people, whereas DMD affects 20,000 children globally each year. 

The new technology can offer much hope to those suffering from debilitating genetic diseases that have no readily-available treatments by providing early diagnosis. The earlier a diagnosis can be made the more chances patients have of managing their diseases effectively.