Community Competition Launches to Learn How to Use Smartphone and Wearable Sensors to Monitor Health

The Parkinson’s Disease Digital Biomarker DREAM Challenge uses mobile sensor data to identify aspects of Parkinson’s disease severity based on measurements of movement (actigraphy)

SEATTLE--()--Sage Bionetworks announces the launch of the Parkinson’s Disease Digital Biomarker DREAM Challenge. This is the first in a series of open, crowd-sourced analytical projects sponsored by Sage Bionetworks and designed to help researchers identify ways to use smartphones and remote sensing devices to monitor health and disease. The challenge will aim to use sensors to identify aspects of Parkinson’s disease (PD) severity. Funding for the challenge has been provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF).

“Increasing the accuracy of remote health monitoring will expand our ability to better understand how our health is influenced by the context and choices of daily life,” said Paul Tarini, program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “The challenge is designed to solve a major problem in the field – how best to process sensor data for health interpretations.”

The project takes an open, crowd-source approach to address the first step in analysis of sensor data – feature engineering, or the conversion of raw sensor data into analysis-ready data. By engaging a wide community, the challenge will seek to identify the landscape of possibilities to process sensor data for use in health studies. “While there are many projects that have successfully collected sensor data from people in the real-world setting,” said Lara Mangravite, President of Sage Bionetworks, “we still have a poor understanding of what the data can tell us about health.”

The challenge will focus on identifying markers of PD severity from sensor data. An estimated five million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disorder that can cause tremors, gait issues, speech problems, and interfere with memory. These symptoms can change with disease progression, medical treatment, and some lifestyle choices. The data used in this challenge include accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyroscope data collected in two separate studies of Parkinson’s disease patients.

One of the datasets used in the challenge was collected from research participants through mPower, a patient-centered, iPhone app-based study of symptom variation in PD. mPower, which launched in 2015 with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was one of the first studies to use the ResearchKit framework developed by Apple for administration of research studies through iOS. More than 15,000 individuals have enrolled in this study over the past two years and almost 6,000 performed a remote test for gait and balance. “Remote sensor data capture can be used to objectively detect fluctuations in symptoms within a patient such as in response to medication,” said Larsson Omberg, VP of systems biology at Sage Bionetworks. “But we are not yet very good at detecting differences between PD and non-PD participants. A major contributing factor is the naïve approaches to feature engineering that are currently being used.”

The challenge will also use data collected during activities from the MJFF-sponsored Levodopa Response Trial. In this trial, individuals were monitored with three to eight accelerometer sensors while they performed a variety of motor and ethnographically valid tasks. The trial was spread over two in-clinic days and two at-home days. In clinical visits, participants performed 18 tasks, six times each. During home visits, continuous, raw data was captured. “The Michael J. Fox Foundation supports the use of novel, digital technologies to speed Parkinson’s research,” says Mark Frasier, PhD, senior vice president of research programs at MJFF. “Inviting analysis of the Levodopa Response Trial sensor data in the challenge can further engage leaders in the field to advance computational science toward new treatments and a cure for Parkinson’s disease.” These data will be made available at the close of this challenge for researchers to analyze.

The results of this study, which are expected in the fall, will provide best practices and tools to advance the development of PD digital biomarkers, as well as to advance the mobile health community at large. The winning researcher teams with the best methods for processing sensor data will share a $25,000 prize from The Michael J. Fox Foundation.

For additional information about the PD Digital Biomarkers Challenge:

About DREAM Challenges

First conceived by IBM in 2006, DREAM Challenges have addressed objectives that range from predictive models for disease progression to developing models for cell signaling networks. Designed and run by a community of researchers, DREAM Challenges invite participants to propose solutions, fostering collaboration and building communities in the process. The DREAM Challenges community shares a vision of open collaboration to leverage the “wisdom of the crowd” to improve human health and sciences.

About Sage Bionetworks

Founded in 2009, Sage Bionetworks is a nonprofit biomedical research organization that promotes innovations in personalized medicine by enabling a community-based approach to scientific inquiries and discoveries. In pursuit of this mission, Sage Bionetworks has assembled an information commons for biomedicine supported by Synapse, an open compute space. The commons facilitates open research collaborations and innovative DREAM Challenges; it also empowers citizens and patients to share data and partner with researchers through Sage’s BRIDGE platform (

About The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research

As the world’s largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson’s research, The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to accelerating a cure for Parkinson’s disease and improved therapies for those living with the condition today. The Foundation pursues its goals through an aggressively funded, highly targeted research program coupled with active global engagement of scientists, Parkinson’s patients, business leaders, clinical trial participants, donors and volunteers. In addition to funding more than $700 million in research to date, the Foundation has fundamentally altered the trajectory of progress toward a cure. Operating at the hub of worldwide Parkinson’s research, the Foundation forges groundbreaking collaborations with industry leaders, academic scientists and government research funders; increases the flow of participants into Parkinson’s disease clinical trials with its online tool, Fox Trial Finder; promotes Parkinson’s awareness through high-profile advocacy, events and outreach; and coordinates the grassroots involvement of thousands of Team Fox members around the world. For more information, visit us on the Web, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

About RWJF

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working with others to build a national Culture of Health enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at


Sage Bionetworks
Colleen Jones, 206-667-2102

Release Summary

The Parkinson’s Disease Digital Biomarker DREAM Challenge launches to learn how to use smartphone and wearable sensors to monitor health.



Sage Bionetworks
Colleen Jones, 206-667-2102