SALT LAKE CITY - The best mobile apps are quick, simple and easy to use -- qualities prized by young tech-savvy users, but also important for those who suffer from Alzheimer's and their loved ones.
University of Utah researchers are developing a phone and tablet app they envision as an interactive manual for people whose lives are touched by the disease. They recently got a vote of confidence in the form of a $125,000 Small Business Technology Transfer grant from the National Institutes of Health.
The app would help users explore topics from an initial concern about a loved one's memory to assessing the quality of their treatment. It would be organized around modules dedicated to the different phases of life and the disease.
"We treat a lot of patients with dementia and we understand the needs of the families," said Edward Zamrini, a professor of neurology and director of clinical trials at the university's Center for Alzheimer's Care, Imaging and Research. "We try to think of ways we can make their lives easier."
Zamrini is vice president of a new startup company called Proactive Memory Services, formed with president Norman Foster, director of the Alzheimer's center.
"The app will be like having an expert at your elbow throughout the process," Foster said in a statement. "What we hope to accomplish is reaching patients even before they seek medical advice."
They aim to have a demo version of the app ready by the summer and if it's successful, they could be eligible for another $1 million in federal funding.
Similar apps are already on the market, but Zamrini said ease of use and an ability to customize the information will give their product an edge.
"If I don't know what my question is, I need to be able to get enough information to guide me through what I need to be thinking about in order to formulate the question," Zamrini said. "The main thing is if I am somebody concerned about memory I need to be able to use the app without spending hours on it."
They haven't yet determined how much the app might cost.
Forming a company allowed the researchers to apply for the grant. The money will fund their salaries while they work on the project and pay for the work of technology consultants.
The university's Technology Commercialization Office helped the researchers create the business, make a plan and connect with programmers.
"We're researchers, not business people," Zamrini said. "Our focus is on what can we do to help our patients, not how can we capitalize on this."
The commercialization office helps employees bring their ideas and research to market, said director Bryan Ritchie. That often means licensing research to outside companies, but sometimes it means helping employees or students create their own company, he said.
"It takes a career to develop some of the guidance that will be in this app," Richie said. "These guys have worked for years developing exceptional care to patients and their families."