Experts use Avatar technology to research diseases that impact movement

January 24th, 2023

Experts based in the UK are using technology utilised in films like Avatar to research diseases that impact human movement.

Researchers are using motion capture technology similar to innovations used in Avatar to bring characters to life to monitor symptoms and track conditions that restrict movement. The innovative technology uses AI (artificial intelligence) to gather information about the movement of the body.

One of the key benefits of using the technology as part of research into diseases that affect motion and mobility is speed. The sooner patients are diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome in the vast majority of cases. In trials, experts in the UK were able to track the severity of symptoms of two different genetic diseases twice as fast as leading doctors. The studies focused on Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD).

The research team, which has recently published the findings in Nature Medicine, claims that the technology can speed up diagnosis and treatment as well as reducing the cost and time it takes to develop new treatments by around 50%.

Dr Valeria Ricotti, from Great Ormond Street Institute for Child Health, was one of a group of UK-based researchers who developed the technology over a 10-year period. The team adapted the technology used in movies like Avatar to create a motion capture system. Dr Ricotti told reporters from BBC News that she was “completely blown away by the results” and added that the impact of the technology on drug development and diagnosis speeds “could be absolutely massive.” The group comprised researchers from University College London and Imperial College.

During the study period, researchers tested the motion capture technology on two separate groups, including patients with FA and individuals with DMD. They believe it could be used to track patients with many other disorders that impact movement, including psychiatric disorders and conditions that affect the nervous system, bones, brain, heart, lungs and muscles.

Assessing patients with disorders like FA and DMD to track potential effects and predict symptom progression usually takes years. The studies show that motion capture technology can help to deliver more accurate results much faster.

Prof Aldo Faisal, from Imperial College, explained that the technology was able to detect very small, subtle movements that humans weren’t able to identify. He added that the technology has the capacity to “transform clinical trials as well as improve diagnosis and monitoring for patients.”

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