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.”

What another expert thinks of the idea: Dr. Nicte Mejia, a neurologist from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston says Little's technology could be used in several ways, particularly to diagnose people remotely who may not normally have access to a neurologist. “If it helps you screen people with a disease that is limiting their quality of life and you can help get them screened through very low cost and very easily accessible technology, it would mean a lot to my patients,” Mejia said. The technology couldn’t come at a better time, she said since the number of Parkinson's cases in the world is expected to grow from 4.5 million at present to 9 million by 2030.

His other career: Little wrote compositions that were widely used as incidental music for television and radio shows.

On why you should care about math: “Math is the hidden backbone of the modern world: flight, computers, mobile phones, the Internet, GPS, etc. Just a little bit of math provides insight into the very fabric of reality as we know it. No other subject is more fundamental to our survival on this planet.”

Max’s number one piece of advice: “No matter how sane, natural or reasonable it seems to you, never simply trust what you grew up to believe.”

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Filed under: Science • The Next List
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. anna hirsch

    I took the phone test haw dp O get he results

    December 27, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Reply
  2. Brittany

    Im very interested on what comes out of this, i know it will be good :)

    December 24, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Reply
  3. JOANNE ROLAND

    I too am a student of Sharry Edwards, (the developer and leading researcher of Human BioAcoustics). In the years that I have had the honor to be involved in the research and many vocal prints later, I have gotten incredible details about the subject's health and wellbeing. Sharry Edwards' research, using the mathematical matrix of frequency equivalents. allows the individual and their care giver to use the information to restore a healthy state. Human BioAcoustics is such a huge contribution to wellness and the health of the people that to do your investigation justice you need to contact Sharry at Sound Health in Albany, Ohio (740-698-9119) to get the rest of the story.

    December 4, 2012 at 5:37 am | Reply
  4. Kathy Greene

    I have been a student of Sharry Edwards, (the developer and leading researcher of Human BioAcoustics) since the early 90s. Max Little is doing nothing new. Sharry has been doing this and much, much more for decades, and she has been teaching her students to do the same. Her research has developed into a massive mathematical matrix of frequency equivalents. When the human voice is applied to this matrix, incredible details about the subject's physical, mental and emotional condition are revealed – in minutes. Sharry has also developed frequency formulas to restore normalcy (and thus a healthy state) to the subject. She has even affected DNA using sound frequency. If you really want to know about the huge amount of information a 40 second voiceprint can reveal, you really should contact Sharry at Sound Health in Albany,Ohio! -Kathy

    December 1, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Reply

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