Trials of a new technology that researchers hope will dramatically improve screening for Parkinson’s disease are set to begin next year.
RMIT University has signed a research agreement with an Australian tech-start up develop the screening technology, which is designed to pick up signs of Parkinson’s disease in the earliest stages.
It’s believed that more than 80,000 Australians are living with Parkinson’s. Many treatment options are only effective if the condition is caught early before irreversible damage is cause to nerve cells in the brain, says RMIT’s Professor Dinesh Kumar.
“Early detection is critical because we know that by the time someone starts to experience tremors or rigidity, it may already be too late for medication to be effective,” he says.
The technology, which will be able to spot the disease in the absence of other symptoms and can also potentially be used to monitor and manage the condition after diagnosis, is based on analysis of drawing and writing tasks.
“It’s long been known that Parkinson’s Disease affects muscle control and habitual activities, so it affects how patients write and draw,” Professor Kumesh says.
“Our technology translates that insight into a reliable assessment tool.
Screening for Parkinson’s
As part of the screening process patients complete seven dexterity test on a tablet, including writing, memory tasks and joining dots to create a spiral. The results are then transmitted to the cloud which enables them to be analysed in real.
The test, which creates a patient-specific baseline for Parkinson’s symptoms, has already been successfully trialed and an earlier version of the technology was found to have 93 per cent accuracy.
Professor Kumar says standard Parkinson’s tests have a level of subjectivity, which can affect reliability.
“Our technology is completely objective and it’s highly sensitive for both improvements and deterioration in dexterity.
“As our population ages, the number of people living with Parkinson’s is expected to increase dramatically, so knowing more precisely how the disease is progressing and understanding the effect of different treatments will be crucial in helping them manage their condition.”
The agreement gives Melbourne based company Jesse Medical the rights to commercialise and trial the technology, developed by a team of biomedical researchers from the RMIT school of engineering.
Patient trials are slated for Australia and China in mid 2020 and it’s hoped the technology will become available by 2022.