An agreement between Australia’s RMIT University and a start-up company could produce a screening technology capable of catching Parkinson’s disease in its earliest stage and be available within three years.
As reported, the pioneering technology analyses the results of specialised drawing and writing tasks to differentiate between people with and without the condition.
Background of the initiative
More than 10 million people worldwide are estimated to be living with Parkinson’s disease, including over 80,000 Australians.
Many treatment options for Parkinson’s are only effective when the condition is caught early.
Unfortunately, by the time patients show any commonly recognisable symptoms, many nerve cells in the brain have already suffered irreversible damage.
About the screening technology
The new tool can spot the disease when there are no obvious symptoms and can also be used to monitor Parkinson’s patients after diagnosis, which will help manage their condition better.
The research agreement provides the Melbourne-based start-up exclusive rights to commercialise the technology developed by the University, which will enable further patient trials.
The agreement with the start-up will bring this much-needed technology into the hands of clinicians, to benefit the many people around the world affected by this condition.
Giving the doctors and nurses the tools to screen for Parkinson’s would allow patients to receive treatment far earlier than ever before.
Early detection is critical because by the time someone starts to experience tremors or rigidity, it may already be too late for medication to be effective.
It has long been known that Parkinson’s disease affects muscle control and habitual activities, so it affects how patients write and draw.
The technology translates that insight into a reliable assessment tool.
Focus on dexterity: how the screening tech works
The screening test involves the completion of seven dexterity tasks on a drawing tablet, including simple writing, writing with memory load and drawing a spiral by joining dots.
The test is able to create a patient-specific baseline for the different aspects of complex Parkinson’s symptoms.
The data are transmitted over the cloud and customised software records the results and analyses them in real-time.
The software is readily compatible with existing technologies, so the only equipment needed to run the screening test is a pen, paper and drawing tablet.
Successful trials demonstrating the efficacy of the screening test have been published in the Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics, Journal of Neurology and Frontiers in Neurology.
The research team has refined an earlier version of the technology, which had an accuracy rate of 93%.
They took into account the effects of medication on the disease. This means it can also now be used for monitoring the effectiveness of treatment and the severity of the condition.
The new technology is also able to provide more details to clinicians regarding patient symptoms. It is completely objective and is highly sensitive for both improvements and deterioration in dexterity.
As the population ages, the number of people living with Parkinson’s is expected to increase dramatically.
That is why 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 technology was developed by the University’s biomedical engineering research team in the School of Engineering, which specialises in e-health and affordable diagnostic technologies.
Further patient trials are set to start in Australia and China in mid- 2020, with the technology expected to be commercially available by 2022.