New Diagnostic Tool Spots First Signs of Parkinson's Disease

Researchers have developed the first tool that can diagnose Parkinson's disease when there are no physical symptoms, offering hope for more effective treatment of the condition. There are currently no laboratory tests for Parkinson's and by the time people present to a neurologist with symptoms, nerve cells in their brains have already suffered irreversible damage.

The new diagnostic software developed by researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, works with readily available technologies and has an accuracy rate of 93 per cent.

The research team hope the tool could one day be used as a standard screening test to spot the condition in its earliest stages.

Chief investigator Professor Dinesh Kumar said many treatment options for Parkinson's were effective only when the disease was diagnosed early.

"Pushing back the point at which treatment can start is critical because we know that by the time someone starts to experience tremors or rigidity, it may already be too late," Kumar said.

"We've long known that Parkinson's disease affects the writing and sketching abilities of patients, but efforts to translate that insight into a reliable assessment method have failed - until now.

"The customised software we've developed records how a person draws a spiral and analyses the data in real time. The only equipment you need to run the test is a pen, paper and a large drawing tablet.

"With this tool we can tell whether someone has Parkinson's disease and calculate the severity of their condition, with a 93 per cent accuracy rate.

"While we still have more research to do, we're hopeful that in future doctors or nurses could use our technology to regularly screen their patients for Parkinson's, as well as help those living with the disease to better manage their condition."

More than 10 million people worldwide are estimated to be living with Parkinson's disease, including 80,000 Australians. Parkinson's is the second most common neurological disease in Australia after dementia, with about 20 per cent of sufferers under 50 years old and 10 per cent diagnosed before the age of 40.

PhD researcher Poonam Zham led the study by the RMIT biomedical engineering research team, which specialises in e-health and the development of affordable diagnostic technologies.

Working with Dandenong Neurology in south-east Melbourne, the study involved 62 people diagnosed with Parkinson's disease - half had no visible symptoms and half ranged from mildly to severely affected.

The researchers compared the effectiveness of different dexterity tasks - writing a sentence, writing individual letters, writing a sequence of letters and sketching a guided Archimedean spiral - and determined that the spiral was the most reliable and also the easiest for participants to complete.

"Our study had some limitations so we need to do more work to validate our results, including a longitudinal study on different demographics and a trial of patients who are not taking medication," Zham said.

"But we're excited by the potential for this simple-to-use and cost-effective technology to transform the way we diagnose Parkinson's, and the promise it holds for changing the lives of millions around the world."

Zham P, Kumar DK, Dabnichki P, Poosapadi Arjunan S, Raghav S.
Distinguishing Different Stages of Parkinson's Disease Using Composite Index of Speed and Pen-Pressure of Sketching a Spiral.
Front. Neurol. 8:435. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2017.00435.

Most Popular Now

Leading Health Systems Sign On to Delive…

Royal Philips (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHIA), a global leader in health technology, has announced the expanding adoption of its Population Health Management solutions with health systems across the globe, including...

Pflegetiger Adds Digital Health Ventures…

Since summer 2016, Pflegetiger has been developing its innovative concept of neighborhood care, a concept designed to make in-home care attractive for care professionals again. The company's revolutionary approach -...

Can Virtual Reality be Used to Manage Pa…

Virtual reality has emerged into popular culture with an ever-widening array of applications including clinical use in a pediatric healthcare center. Children undergo necessary yet painful and distressing medical procedures...

Free iPhone App could Guide MS Research…

For some diseases, a simple blood test is all that's needed to estimate severity or confirm a diagnosis. Not so for multiple sclerosis. No single lab test can tell doctors...

Using Social Media Big Data to Combat Pr…

Researchers at Dartmouth, Stanford University, and IBM Research, conducted a critical review of existing literature to determine whether social media big data can be used to understand communication and behavioral...

B.Braun Accelerator Call for Innovative …

B. Braun is one of the world's leading providers and manufacturers of healthcare solutions today. The company employs more than 60,000 employees in 64 countries and is looking for European...

'NHS Cyber Security Batsignal' Peer-to-P…

The two chairs of the largest independent communities of NHS digital leaders will launch the 'NHS Cyber Security Batsignal', a new peer-to-peer cyber security warning alerting system, at the first...

Giving Rookie Dads the Online Info they …

Expectant and new parents often turn to the internet for parenting prep, but it turns out that dads often don't seem to find the information they say they need about...

Artificial Intelligence to Evaluate Brai…

Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the Helsinki University Hospital (HUH), Finland, have developed software based on machine learning, which can independently interpret EEG signals from a premature infant...

FDA Approves Pill with Sensor that Digit…

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug in the U.S. with a digital ingestion tracking system. Abilify MyCite (aripiprazole tablets with sensor) has an ingestible sensor...

Philips Partners with Dutch Health Insur…

Royal Philips (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHIA), a global leader in health technology, today announced that it is collaborating with Dutch health insurer ONVZ to provide an industry first, strategic cooperation...