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Small Biz Grant to ID Digital Biomarkers for Alzheimer’s



12 Oct. 2021. National Institutes of Health is awarding a grant to identify indicators of Alzheimer’s disease in a company’s collecting of life stories from older people. LifeBio Inc. in Marysville, Ohio is receiving a one-year, $448,462 award from National Institute on Aging, part of NIH, for advancing the company’s technology to detect digital biomarkers of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and track its progression.

LifeBio offers a service that enables older individuals to capture their life stories through telephone interviews and interactive online apps. The life stories are used to capture personal histories, but also to offer assisted living facilities and health care providers with details of an older person’s life to help provide more personalized care. The stories can be particularly useful for individuals with cognitive or communications disabilities. In addition, LifeBio offers a related service offering weekly telephone calls to older individuals, to combat loneliness and social isolation.

The company and researchers on aging recognize the value of these collected stories for better understanding and dealing with cognitive decline in older individuals. Last year, LifeBio and Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging in Cleveland, Ohio received a two-year $2.4 million grant from NIA to develop LifeBio Memory, a technology platform for capturing and converting narrated speech into text, supplemented with images and video, to prepare personalized memory exercises. These exercises are designed to help people with dementia reconstruct memories of their lives. The company says a pilot test with Benjamin Rose Institute shows the system helps reduce depressive symptoms among participants.

“Reminiscence therapy has been an effective tool in dementia care and in addressing social determinants of health,” says LifeBio founder and CEO Beth Sanders in a company statement released through Cision. “Our current LifeBio Memory solution as well as this new tool, LifeBio-ALZ, will use artificial intelligence to take person-centered care and contextualized health to a new level.”

AI tools in a patient-centered app

The new NIA award funds enhancements in the LifeBio system to identify digital biomarkers, or indicators of Alzheimer’s disease called LifeBio-ALZ, when collecting the company’s life stories. The project calls for applying artificial intelligence tools in a patient-centered app that analyzes eye movements and responses to questions in recorded audio and video. Algorithms developed in the project will evaluate awareness, engagement, cognition, reaction time, speech patterns, and emotional state in the analyzed recordings to construct the app.

The project aims to determine feasibility and development of a prototype LifeBio-ALZ system, including a patient app. After initial verification, LifeBio-ALZ will be deployed for field testing, with collected data used to build an artificial intelligence engine that detects early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and assesses disease progression.

Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island is partnering with LifeBio on the project. “Communication changes can be difficult to measure for people living with dementia, especially when cognitive symptoms are mild,” notes Brown psychiatry professor Gary Epstein-Lubow, who adds, “We will be testing if LifeBio-ALZ can assist clinicians in better understanding speech patterns, eye movements, emotional changes, and other factors to aid in earlier detection and assessing changes over time.”

The award is a Small Business Innovation Research or SBIR grant made under NIH’s small business programs that set aside a part of the agency’s research funding for U.S.-based and owned companies. SBIR grants fund work by research companies in the U.S., and in most cases are made in two parts: a first phase to determine technical and commercial feasibility, and a second phase to develop and test a working prototype or prepare for clinical trials. This grant is a phase 1 award that runs through August 2022.

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