A telemedicine diagnostic and monitoring tool for Parkinson's disease

Photo of Erin Smith

Written by

Date Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

While watching a video created by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, I observed that Parkinson’s patients’ facial expressions frequently appeared emotionally distant. As I talked to caretakers and clinicians, they reported similar observations in their loved ones years before diagnosis. I was fascinated. I wondered if facial expressions could monitor changes in the brain like Parkinson’s and objectively detect its onset. As I began working one-on-one with patients and ultimately launched a national study, I was inspired by the patients’ stories and resilience. Developing FacePrint became my way to say thank you to the patients who have given me so much in terms of their friendship and wisdom. It has become my way to turn my scribbled notes and ideas into tangible technology and hope.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

There are no definitive means of diagnosis for Parkinson’s disease. Current methods rely on in-clinic medical examination and the presence of symptoms that do not occur until late stages of the disease. Further, existing diagnostic methods are often subjective, and lack of quantified biomarkers and tools hinders the process. With over 10 million cases, lack of early, objective diagnostic tools will pose an increasing societal and economic threat.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

FacePrint is a tool to diagnose and monitor Parkinson’s disease using video technology to objectively capture early stage facial muscle indicators. Requiring only a computer and webcam, FacePrint offers an inexpensive, remote tool to detect early stage Parkinson’s disease within milliseconds. Compatible with facial recognition used by Snapchat and Facebook, FacePrint is the selfie that could save your life.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

FacePrint provides a screening and diagnostic support tool for healthcare providers. FacePrint is composed of two main tests:the Spontaneous and the Posed Facial Expression Tests. Based on the collected facial footage, FacePrint equips clinicians with a robust system to detect disease onset by objectively capturing facial impairments and identified behavioral biomarkers associated with early stages of Parkinson’s. Further, FacePrint creates a telemedicine system for patient’s to monitor daily symptoms from the comfort of their own homes. The data can be shared with the clinician, creating a continual feedback loop and a more comprehensive understanding of fluctuations in symptoms in-between appointments. The identified facial indicators also provide external manifestation of early neurological changes and can be used to test and develop better targeted treatments and early intervention.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

FacePrint is 98% cheaper than current methods, and the patent-pending system is specifically designed to be accessible, adaptable, and scalable. Further, FacePrint currently has an accuracy of 88%, compared to the current gold-standard of 81.6%. FacePrint takes the previously subjective masked face observation that commonly occurs 5-10 years before the onset of traditional motor symptoms and subsequent diagnosis and turns it into an objectively indicator of Parkinson’s disease.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

My research thus far has consisted of 265 patients composed of Parkinson’s and non-Parkinson’s patients. Each numbers represents a different story. After I collected data, the patients would sit me down and tell me about their lives, which ranged from telling me funny stories about their spouses to trying to persuade me to marry their sons to recounting the daily challenges of living with Parkinson’s disease. Everything about my research changed in those moments. The patient’s eye-opening stories became my motivation. I was shocked by how long it had taken patients to receive their diagnosis and how subjective the process was. I heard countless stories from patients who were not ready for the depression, anxiety, insomnia, and memory loss that were also part of their Parkinson’s experience. My work became to create hope by developing technology to improve life with Parkinson's disease.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

I am currently expanding FacePrint to include diseases commonly misdiagnosed for Parkinson’s, specifically Essential Tremor and atypical parkinsonism disorders. I am also launching longitudinal studies which will enable me to pinpoint the exact point before diagnosis that the algorithms are able to detect disease state. Further, I am an incoming freshman at Stanford University where I will continue my research and integrate brain imaging into FacePrint’s process to map disease specific facial changes. In late 2018, I will be launching the mobile app version of FacePrint. I will also be launching the Human Face Project to expand FacePrint to other neurological and psychological diseases, specifically PTSD and postpartum depression.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

I need advice and expertise as I develop and launch the mobile app version of FacePrint. I also need machine learning and algorithm development advice as I work on refining FacePrint’s current diagnostic and monitoring models using the new data that I collected that will be available in early June. Further, funding and access to a wider range of research participants will be a critical next step as I launch the Human Face Project to expand FacePrint to other neurological and psychological disorders, mapping facial impairments associated with the entire spectrum of human health and wellness. I also want to expand my efforts to raise awareness and hope among the Parkinson’s disease community.

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

I am always seeking to expand the team behind FacePrint. Creating a strong board of teammates and advisors is critical to the long term success and sustainability behind this project. Currently, I have worked with Parkinson’s patients, movement disorder specialists, software engineers, etc. in order to turn this idea into a tangible reality. In the future, I am excited to learn new ways to work with fellow changemakers and other young people in order to scale up FacePrint’s potential impact.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media
  • Recommended by others
  • Word of mouth

Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 80%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 20%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 60%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 40%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 40%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 60%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 50%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 20%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 60%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 20%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%


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Photo of Jessica Smith

This is hilarious. Side note, I read if you stop steering and just hold A when riding through trees the game auto steers around them, and life has been significantly less tree-crashy for me since.

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