Could technology play a key role in curing Parkinson’s disease? Doctors and researchers believe they’re hot on the trail in terms of finding a cure.
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Parkinson’s disease is chronic, debilitating, and frustrating. It’s also incurable at the moment, which is why so much time, money, and energy is being poured into finding treatments. But could technology play a key role? Doctors and researchers believe they’re hot on the trail in terms of finding a cure.
Understanding Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that slowly progresses in people for many years. It takes years for symptoms to develop and most people remain functional for a number of years after the disease is detected.
“In short, a person’s brain slowly stops producing a neurotransmitter called dopamine,” Parkinson.org explains. “With less and less dopamine, a person has less and less ability to regulate their movements, body and emotions.”
While Parkinson’s isn’t fatal, it often leads to other complications that can prove to be detrimental to the health and livelihood of the individual. The problem is that most people aren’t aware they have Parkinson’s until the motor symptoms appear. By this time, roughly 60-80 percent of the dopamine-producing cells have been damaged. Therefore, much of the current research is focused on identifying Parkinson’s earlier and reversing or stopping cell damage after detection.
The Role of New Technology
Parkinson’s research is nothing new. Jeffery Kordower, Ph.D., a Rush University Medical Center researcher, has been leading the charge for many years. He’s been a part of different teams who have made groundbreaking discoveries, but they’ve unfortunately been unable to find a cure. The hope is that new technologies will assist in the fight, though.
One of the newest developments comes from researchers at the Technical University of Madrid, who are testing new wearable sensor networks and mobile phone applications that help doctors monitor and manage patients with Parkinson’s disease. The low-cost sensors detect and transmit symptoms so that the medical team can track patient profiles and provide more specialized care on a patient-by-patient basis.
Next, there’s research in the area of stem cells. There’s hope that induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which were discovered in 2007, could eventually treat diseases like Parkinson’s.
“In theory, scientists could use cells from people living with Parkinson’s disease to create iPS cell models of the disease that have the same intrinsic cellular machinery of a Parkinson’s patient,” the Michael J. Fox Foundation explains. “Researchers could use these cell models to evaluate genetic and environmental factors implicated in Parkinson’s disease.”
From a lifestyle perspective, a lot of smaller companies are coming out with everyday devices and products that help combat the symptoms of Parkinson’s. For example, the Liftware company has a collection of high-tech eating utensils – like spoons and forks – that automatically detect when hand tremors begin and react to cancel out the tremor and steady the utensil.
Then there’s MouseCage software, which can be installed on a computer to smooth the mouse cursor motion and reduce the shakiness that comes with tremors. There’s even clothing designed for people with Parkinson’s. For example, MagnaReady has a line of men’s and women’s dress shirts with magnetic buttons that make it easier for people with limited dexterity and tremors to get dressed.
Putting it All Together
While there’s still no cure or effective treatment for Parkinson’s disease, there’s an overwhelming amount of research and energy being poured into finding some sort of cure. The hope is that we’re just a few years away from finding a solution to this debilitating disease that impacts millions of families worldwide.
As is the case with every other medical development, technology is right there at the heart of the issue – spearheading the pursuit of a brighter and healthier tomorrow.