Newswise — Rutgers researchers discovered links between the genetic disorders Fragile X (linked to autism) and SHANK3 deletion Syndrome (linked to walking problems). They examined the microscopic movements in the feet of people wearing motion-sensored shoes.
The method was published in a new study . It detects gait problems 15 through 20 years prior to their clinical diagnosis. This could lead to improved intervention models that preserve brain structure.
“Walking patterns are a sign of health. However, symptoms like Fragile X such as gait problems can go unnoticed for many years. Elizabeth Torres is a Rutgers University-New Brunswick professor and director of the Sensory Motor Integration Lab. “Given issues with anatomical differences–such as people with longer or shorter limbs–and disease complexity, it has remained challenging to use walking patterns to screen nervous system disorders more broadly, across disorders impacting people of different ages and developmental stages.”
According to the National Fragile X Foundation, approximately 1 in 468 men and 1 in 151 women are carriers of the abnormal gene that causes Fragile X syndrome. The National Organization for Rare Disorders states that 30 percent people with SHANK3 deletion usually require at least two chromosome analyses before they are detected. As such, the estimated prevalence is 2.5-10 per million births with equal likelihood of males and females being affected.
Researchers examined walking movements that could not be seen by the naked eyes in 189 individuals to identify nervous system disorders.
The microscopic movements can be detected using statistical techniques by Torres, causal forecasting methods by Theodoros Bermperidis, and wearable motion-sensored shoes created by Stevens Institute of Technology colleagues.
The researchers used gait data from patients with and without disabilities to combine video, heart rate and wearable technology such as a Fitbit. The smart shoes collected a variety of signals from the feet and body. Participants performed a simple walk task.
Torres, along with her team, examined how spikes derived microvariations from movements’ streams changed from moment to moment. They also examined the rate at which the spikes changed. They examined the timing of spikes, not just the averages. Instead, they looked at the valleys, peaks and other points around the spikes.
The study offers a framework for predicting the departure from normal walking patterns in young healthy people. This is applicable to both normal aging and participants who are Fragile X-carriers. These methods allow for stratification of the population affected by autism-related disorders.
“Because Fragile X, SHANK3 and other neurological conditions like autism, Fragile X associated tremor/ataxia and Parkinson’s are still high, this method is important to detect abnormal patterns,” stated Bermperidis, the lead author.
According to the research, gait naturally declines with normal aging. The first limbs to be affected by aging are the hip, knee, ankle, and thigh joints.
Doctors have to diagnose a patient who presents unusual gait patterns. Torres believes biosensors, analytics and the doctor’s vast experience can offer more than meets the eyes.
Study co-authors included Richa Rai, a graduate student at Rutgers, Jihye Ryu, a former Rutgers student and researchers from Stevens Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Columbia University Medical Center, New York Presbyterian-Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The research was supported by the New Jersey Governor’s Council for the Medical Research and Treatments of Autism and the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation Career Development Award for EBT.
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