Rhoda Au on Digital Biomarkers and Precision Brain Health

Summary
Harry speaks with Boston University’s Rhoda Au, who believes that algorithms parsing new kinds of digital data about individual patients could find warning signs of diseases like dementia while they’re still preventable—leading to a new era in which precision medicine is gradually replaced by “precision health.”

Episode Notes
As one of the researchers involved in the 70-year-long Framingham Heart Study, Rhoda Au is in a unique position to investigate whether changes in speech patterns in middle-aged people could prefigure the onset of Alzheimer’s disease later in life, and whether early detection might give patients more time to take preventative measures. She’s been part of the Framingham study since 1990, and she’s applying voice analysis software to 9,000 digital audio recordings of neuropsychological exams of Framingham patients to see whether there were telltale biomarkers in the speech of patients who went on to develop dementia.
Au is a professor of anatomy and neurobiology at Boston University, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, a senior fellow at the Institute for Health Systems Innovation and Policy at BU’s Questrom School of Business, and the Framingham study’s director of neuropsychology.