Parkinson’s disease affects 10 million people worldwide and its symptoms include finger and hand tremors, small handwriting, loss of smell, difficulty walking, dizziness, and others. Because these symptoms worsen over time, monitoring and treating PD is critical to preserve patients’ autonomy and improve their quality of life.
This is precisely the goal of a group of Portuguese researchers. The iHandUapp project has extended the iHandU project to a full PD cycle. It uses proprietary mobile and wearable technology to monitor the symptoms of Parkinson’s patients with the ability to share data with their physicians in real time, including automated quantification of symptoms, medications, or even Parkinson’s events.
James Parkinson was an English surgeon, geologist and politician born in 1755. After nearly getting arrested for his political career, he turned to medicine, following in his father’s footsteps. As a vocal advocate for the underprivileged, Parkinson focused on improving the overall health of the population. The pinnacle of his medical career was the publication Essay on tremor paralysis, in which he describes six patients with similar symptoms of involuntary tremor. The disease that today bears his name was invented by the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot some 60 years later.
We have learned a lot about Parkinson’s disease (PD) since the 18th century.e century. Parkinson’s disease is characterized by uncontrolled movements and stiffness in the arms and legs that get worse over time. In the basal ganglia, the area of the brain that regulates movement, nerve cells become damaged and/or die, leading to the most visible signs and symptoms of PD. These nerve cells, or neurons, normally produce an important brain chemical called dopamine. It seems that the movement problems associated with the disease are caused by a decrease in dopamine production, which leads to neuronal degeneration and death. Why neurons degenerate in the first place is still unknown.
Parkinson’s disease affects 10 million people worldwide, and family members usually notice the first signs of the disease. These include tremors in the fingers and hands, small handwriting, loss of smell, difficulty walking, dizziness, and others. Because these symptoms worsen over time, monitoring and treating PD is critical to preserve patients’ autonomy and improve their quality of life.
This is precisely the goal of a group of Portuguese researchers. The iHandUapp project has extended the iHandU project to a full PD cycle. It uses proprietary mobile and wearable technology to monitor the symptoms of Parkinson’s patients with the ability to share data with their physicians in real time, including automated quantification of symptoms, medications, or even Parkinson’s events. This technology displays information on a web platform, allowing physicians to access the evolution of their patients’ symptoms and allowing them to remotely order new tests and change medications.
The system includes a hybrid mobile app for Android and iOS devices that allows patients to manage their medications and perform tests to monitor disease-related symptoms at home or during doctor visits, as well as keep professionals informed about relevant events that may happen. In addition, iHandUapp has a dedicated dashboard for healthcare professionals to track patient records and a cloud-hosted database that displays information in real time. »
Duarte Diaz, researcher and coordinator of the Biomedical Engineering Research Center of the Institute of Systems Engineering and Computing, Technology and Science (INESC TEC)
The system works best with information provided by external components called accessories. iHandU is a handheld device with embedded electronics embedded in patented technology that can measure wrist stiffness, one of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. INESC TEC has been developing this technology since 2015 and led to the creation in 2019 of a spin-off dedicated to bringing the technology to market, InSignals Neurotech.
“The first iHandUapp prototype is a promising proof of concept that will add value to Parkinson’s disease monitoring. The application and its functionality was analyzed in collaboration with the hospital São João University Hospital Center (CHUSJ), taking into account the problems and needs of health workers. The feedback so far has been very positive, confirming the usability, simplicity and value of our solution,” added Duarte Diaz.
This technology is also used during deep brain stimulation surgeries, a proposed therapy to suppress movement symptoms when drugs are no longer effective. A critical part of the surgical procedure is choosing where to place the electrodes in the patient’s brain, and neurosurgeons typically use stiffness as feedback to optimize electrode placement. Currently, this important step is performed based on human perception, but the wearable device developed at INESC TEC provides quantitative data without human bias with an impressive accuracy of 80%.
The iHandUapp was publicly announced in June 2022 during the IEEE MELECON conference held in Italy. Duarte Diaz and his team presented the work “PDApp: Complementary mobile application with accessories for continuous monitoring of patients with Parkinson’s disease.“, which received the award for the best work, demonstrating the scientific, technological and clinical significance of the solution.
The award-winning article was written by researchers Nuno Oliveira, Joana Silva, Duarte Diaz, and Joao Paulo Cunha, Professor at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Porto and Principal Investigator at INESC TEC, the team responsible for developing the iHandUapp system. . They were supported by Dr. Joao Massano, a neurologist at CHUSJ, who was instrumental in developing a system tailored to clinical needs. The system has been developed and will be used in a clinical trial already approved by CHUSJ, now involving two other investigators: Eduardo Campos and Adriana Arrais. The goal is to commercialize this promising technology through INESC TEC’s subsidiary, InSignals Neurotech.
Scientists are exploring ways to identify biomarkers of PD that could lead to earlier diagnosis and more tailored treatments to slow the disease process and hopefully even find a cure. In the meantime, this technology is designed to help patients and doctors better cope with the disease, helping to improve the quality of life of those affected.