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CU researcher receives grant to study Parkinson's disease biomarkers


Jayashree Kalpathy-Cramer, PhD, was granted $300,000 from the Michael J Fox Foundation to examine key data put together at the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center with artificial intelligence in an effort to identify biomarkers of Parkinson’s disease.

(Image Credit: AdobeStock/Alessandro Grandini)

(Image Credit: AdobeStock/Alessandro Grandini)

Over the ages, writers and scientists alike have considered the eyes as a window into the soul. Jayashree Kalpathy-Cramer, PhD, sees them as a window into human health.

Kalpathy-Cramer, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, was granted $300,000 from The Michael J Fox Foundation to examine key data put together at the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center with artificial intelligence (AI) in an effort to identify biomarkers of Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder that affects the nervous system and causes uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, throughout the body.1

“This approach could be impactful because there is a lot you can learn from looking at the eyes,” Kalpathy-Cramer, chief of the Division of Artificial Medical Intelligence in Ophthalmology, says of the research she and her team in the CU Department of Ophthalmology will perform during the next 18 months.

“The goal is to predict the disease well before symptoms manifest,” she said in the CU news release. This would mean that the patient and the clinician are aware sooner so we can improve future care.”

The eyes have it

Kalpathy-Cramer is optimistic about the role of AI in Parkinson’s disease detection, especially because AI’s implementation to analyze retinal imaging in other diseases, including dementia, cardiovascular risk factors and schizophrenia.

“The eye is very accessible compared to other parts of the body, like the heart, for example,” she said in the news release. “We can easily take a photo of the eye, and it can tell us a lot about neurological or cardiovascular conditions. It’s an easy way to get a sense of the overall health of the patient.”

Moreover, Kalpathy-Cramer and the team of researchers will have plenty of data to tap into for the research. The university noted in its news release the researchers will work with UCHealth’s Health Data Compass, School of Medicine IT, and guidance from Colorado Multiple Institutional Review Board, along with regulatory, compliance, and informatics leaders on campus to put together a large retrospective dataset consisting of images and health records for patients seen at the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Institute over the last decade in a highly secure research repository.1

Researchers are currently using AI to better curate the data through the analysis of structured and unstructured records.

“We will have access to eye exams and a lot of other information, including basic demographics, potential diseases a patient might have, and when they were diagnosed,” she explained in the news release.

Using that data to train AI to look for biomarkers could clue researchers into a lot about Parkinson’s disease, like how it presents and potentially how it evolves over time.

A view of the future

Kalpathy-Cramer said in the news release she hopes to expand the scope of work in the future and look at larger and more diverse data.

“If we can incorporate different modalities, we might be able further improve our ability to more accurately predict disease prevalence and incidence,” she noted.

Kalpathy-Cramer added that the latest developments in machine learning and AI allow researchers to analyze data at unprecedented scales.

“Our goal is to utilize the large amounts of retrospective clinical data to better care for our patients in the future,” she said in the news release.

Work on the research was expected to start November 1 and last for 18 months.1

“We are extremely grateful to The Michael J Fox Foundation and their interest in exploring and funding this work,” Kalpathy-Cramer concluded in the news release. “It’s a phenomenal initiative, and they’ve funded a lot of groundbreaking work. It has been a wonderful experience to work with them so far.”

  1. CU Ophthalmology researcher funded to study Parkinson’s disease biomarkers. EurekAlert! Published November 1, 2023. Accessed November 7, 2023. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/1006484
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