Avatar motion-capture technology proven applicable in disease research
According to experts, the technology might cut in half the time and cost of developing new treatments in clinical trials.
The motion capture suits used to bring characters to life in films such as Avatar are assisting researchers in tracking the onset of diseases that hamper mobility.
In many circumstances, the sooner such illnesses are diagnosed, the sooner a patient can obtain the necessary care and therapy.
The new device analyzes bodily movements using artificial intelligence.
The UK experts judged the severity of two genetic illnesses twice as fast as the greatest doctors in testing.
According to the experts, it might also cut in half the time and cost of developing new treatments in clinical trials.
The findings were reported in the journal Nature Medicine.
Dr. Valeria Ricotti, of Great Ormond Street Institute for Child Health, 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," she said.
The new technology was tested on patients with Friedreich's Ataxia (FA) and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) in two separate studies.
The researchers revealed that the new technique might also be used to track people recuperating from other disorders that impair movement.
Any ailment involving the brain and neurological system, the heart, lungs, muscles, bone, and a variety of psychiatric disorders are included.
Tracking the severity and anticipated course of such disorders typically entails assessing the speed and precision with which patients perform a set of predefined movements in a clinic. This assessment, which is critical for determining what kind of assistance and therapy a patient requires, might take years.
The two studies published demonstrate that the motion capture system can do this faster and more accurately. It was derived from the technology used by filmmakers in the Avatar films to capture the movement of performers in order to portray convincing aliens on screen.
FA usually manifests itself during adolescence and affects one in every 50,000 people, whereas DMD affects 20,000 children, predominantly boys, worldwide each year. There is currently no cure for either condition.
How does it work?
The motion sensor suits were originally tested on FA patients by a team at Imperial College. They discovered that the AI could predict the progression of the disease over a period of twelve months in half the time that an expert would normally take.
A separate team at Great Ormond Street Hospital tested the technology on 21 boys with DMD aged five to 18. It predicted their movement six months in advance considerably more correctly than a doctor could.
The researchers believe that their technique might be used to accelerate and reduce the cost of clinical trials for novel medications for a variety of illnesses.
It may also reduce the cost of testing novel medications for rare genetic illnesses.
Professor Richard Festenstein from the Medical Research Council's London Institute of Medical Sciences, said, as quoted by BBC News, that "the suit technology, which he helped to develop, had the potential to change the economics of drug discovery."