'Sensory pen' can detect early symptoms of Parkinson's disease

1 min read

Parkinson’s disease may be diagnosed much sooner with the development of sensory pen technology that can identify the often subtle signs of the condition.

The system, combining sensor and computing technology and developed by a venture led by Newcastle-based MANUS Neurodynamica, requires the patient to perform a set of writing tasks, drawing activities or a combination of both.

The system records all movements of the pen as well as other parameters such as drawing pressure, plus acceleration and deceleration of movement to identify patterns that are indicative of specific kinds of neuromotor disorder.

Dr Rutger Zietsma, director of MANUS explained that there are parts of the UK where there is a one year waiting list to see a consultant neurologist and that the current ‘gold standard’ - DaTScan radiological imaging - is expensive and requires specialist training to use. DaTScan can also be a potentially unpleasant experience for patients with side effects including headaches and dizziness.

Zietsma added that the symptoms of PD are mimicked by other impairments, making accurate diagnosis difficult, even for experienced clinicians and that the error rate may be as high as 40 per cent when an assessment is being made by a trainee neurologist or GP.

By contrast, said Zietsma, the sensory pen can be used by non-specialists with minimal training and that large numbers of people would be able to be screened, especially those deemed at risk.

Zietsma explained that the system’s software records key features regarding the movement of the pen, relating it to the motion of the limb, particularly the role of the hand and fingers in coordinating overall pen motion.

The recordings enable the operator to assess akinesia/bradykinesia, tremor, rigidity and other subtle signs of motor deterioration which cannot be clinically detected by any other means. 

The software takes inputs from a variety of sensors (accelerometers and gyroscopes) in the pen and converts them, using proprietary algorithms, into outcome percentages that represent the likelihood of the presence of PD or other neuromotor disorders.

Founded in 2008, Manus has attracted funding that includes a grant from the EC Research Executive Agency under the Research 4 the benefit of SME scheme (R4SME), which is funding R&D until December 2013.

Research grants from the EU are made on the condition that the recipient forms a consortium to implementation their research and Manus’ collaborators are drawn from entities including Glasgow University, Fraunhofer IPMS and IPA, VTT (Technical Research Centre of Finland) and Spain’s Hispafuentes.

The sensory pen, assisted also by a £178,000 late-stage industrial grant from the Technology Strategy Board, will now be put through final stage testing at North Tyneside Hospital.