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Start-Up to Offer Neuro Disorder Speech Analytics App

Nerve cells illustration

(commonfund.nih.gov)

27 June 2017. A start-up enterprise in Germany is commercializing a software app to detect early signs of cognitive decline, found in dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders. The company ki elements — the name is spelled in all lower case — in Saarbrücken, Germany is a spin-off business from EIT Digital, a technology and entrepreneurship education organization in Brussels, Belgium.

Earlier this year, EIT Digital began work on its Element program to develop an app that analyzes speech patterns to assess neurological and psychological factors in individuals linked to cognitive decline. The program seeks to make diagnosing neurodegenerative disorders, such as dementia, easier, faster and less intimidating for individuals. Detecting these signs earlier can open more treatment options to individuals and maintain their quality of life. The system’s developers estimate only about half of dementia cases in Europe are diagnosed, which has significant implications for health care systems and care delivery networks.

Alzheimer’s Association International says some 47 million people are living with dementia, and that number is expected to rise to more than 131 million by 2050. In its 2016 annual report, the group says Alzheimer’s care is over-specialized, meaning too many neurologists, psychiatrists, and gerontologists are providing routine care. With the expected sharp rise in dementia cases, the number of these highly-trained specialists cannot keep pace, which will likely require different skills and solutions for tasks such as diagnostics.

The Element program is harnessing computation linguistics for an app that can screen individuals in their homes or care facilities for signs of cognitive decline by analyzing their speech patterns. DFKI GmbH, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, is developing the initial app algorithms and software. Inria, the French National Institute for computer science and applied mathematics, is collecting the language texts for analysis, as well as conducting video analyses and arranging clinical trials.

The Element app is expected to be introduced first in French and German-speaking regions. However, University of Edinburgh in Scotland is adapting the program to British English speakers. While the software is designed for use by clinicians, it is expected to be used widely in home care and institutional settings by medical professionals, but also by non-medical professionals, such as speech therapists. An alpha version of the software is completed, which ki elements is expected to take into clinical trials, regulatory reviews, and the marketplace.

Jan Alexandersson, CEO of ki elements, says in an EIT Digital statement, “The company is set up and fully operational. The next steps for us is that we are now working on a fully functional prototype so we can start engaging with our first customers by end of 2017 or beginning of 2018.”

He adds that, “We are also working on CE certification [regulatory approval in Europe] of our product and looking to extending our portfolio towards the German market by the end of 2018. For 2017, our focus is on the French market.”

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