November 27th, 2012
10:40 AM ET

Max Little: Detecting Parkinson's by the sound of a voice

Editor’s Note: Watch a 30-minute profile of Max Little Sunday at 2 p.m. on CNN’s “The Next List.”

By The Next List Staff, CNN

Who: Max Little, applied mathematician and project director of the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative.

Why you might know him: You probably don't, but you should. Little's bold idea is this: What if doctors could detect Parkinson’s Disease simply by the sound of your voice? He’s close to proving just that.

How the sound of your voice could be a test for Parkinsons: The idea sounds wild, but Little says he can determine if a person has Parkinson's simply if a person says "ahhhhhh" into a phone for 10 seconds. You don't have to have symptoms for it to work. Maybe the craziest part: Max isn’t a doctor; he’s a mathematician. The magic of the diagnosis is in the algorithms.

How well this sound-based Parkinson's test works: Right now Max is fine-tuning his algorithms with the “Parkinson’s Voice Initiative." He’s collected over 17,000 voices from all over the world that he’s using to test his algorithms. In a lab, Max can predict Parkinson’s disease 99% of the time. If he can get his technology predict with the same accuracy for cell phone calls, it could revolutionize the way neurologists diagnose and treat Parkinson’s. “A practical future use of this technology could be that a neurologist has a number set up, a person can call into that number," he said. “They leave a voice recording. The algorithms would analyze that voice recording and then a neurologist can get an indication about whether or not they have Parkinson’s and the probability associated with that. And then, of course, they can get back to the patient and follow-up.”

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Filed under: Science • The Next List