Parkinson’s Disease, (PD), is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the muscles in the body. It’s progressive, so in its first stages is not always noticeable. Early symptoms include hand tremors, as well as changes in facial movements. The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation
estimates that one million Americans live with PD, which is more than ALS, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis combined. Men are more than 1.5 times more likely to get PD and while it progresses faster as patients age, 4% of patients are diagnosed with the disease before they turn fifty years old. While there are some treatments that can ease symptoms, the cause is unknown and there is no cure.
Faii Ong, a researcher at Imperial College in London, was inspired to help find a way to ease hand tremors in patients with PD after caring for a woman with the disease when he was a medical student. Instead of looking toward medications or complex brain surgery to treat the disease, he wondered if physics could be used to engineer devices that would help patients with the often debilitating tremors. Ong told Technology Review
, “Mechanical gyroscopes are like spinning tops: they always try to stay upright by conserving angular momentum. My idea was to use gyroscopes to instantaneously and proportionally resist a person’s hand movement, thereby dampening any tremors in the wearer’s hand.”
Ong worked on solutions with other researchers at a lab at ICL and they came up with a piece of wearable tech that reduced tremors significantly in Parkinson’s patients. The device, dubbed “The GyroGlove”, has been gaining a lot of attention in the UK. The team brought it all the way to finals of the world’s largest biotech innovation challenge, OneStart
. In addition, the glove also received first place and an award of 10,000 pounds in the very first F Factor competition. The F Factor competition was started by Simon Cowell, host and creator of the musical contest The X Factor.
The glove contains a small gyroscope that is fitted on the back of the hand. It’s powered by a tiny battery and a circuit board. When the hand moves in a shaky manner, as happens in tremors, the circuits detect the motion and set the spinning gyroscope into action to counteract the hand motion and still the tremor. The prototype is in the early days of development but the team feels that the testing and engineering of improvements to the design will result in a device that can allow patients to write, feed themselves and do other activities that have been lost due to the progression of the disease.
Stuart Palma, an adviser from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) in the UK told CNN.com
, “In theory, this could be incredibly beneficial for people with Parkinson's, but as with all new technologies, further research will be necessary to determine its short and long term effectiveness.” Ong’s team will continue to test and develop the device and hope to assess its effectiveness on patients who have Essential Tremor, which is similar to Parkinson’s in that it produces debilitating muscle tremors. Check out the video below to learn more about this high tech wearable device that could change the lives of those suffering from tremors.