Student Device May Ease Parkinson’s Symptoms
Parkinson’s disease patients whose symptoms such as tremor, muscle stiffness and slowed movement make it tough to hold an eating utensil steady have few options for relief outside of a hospital or clinic. Medication can help, but over time it tends to become less effective. To give these patients another in-home option, Johns Hopkins graduate students have invented a headband-shaped device to deliver noninvasive brain stimulation to help tamp down the symptoms.
The students’ prototype, developed during a yearlong biomedical engineering master’s degree program, has not yet been tested on humans, but it is viewed as a promising first step toward helping Parkinson’s patients safely relieve their own symptoms at home or elsewhere without going to a hospital or doctor’s office. The design has already received recognition at several prominent competitions. The five student team members were inspired to build the new device last summer after observing neurosurgery being performed on Parkinson’s patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Parkinson’s is an incurable neurodegenerative disorder that affects 1 million people in the United States and 7 million worldwide.
For patients in advanced stages, one treatment option is deep brain stimulation. “We saw that this procedure is really invasive and can take 10 to 15 hours to complete,” said Shruthi Rajan, a team member from Charlotte, N.C. “It’s also very expensive, and not all patients qualify for the surgery. We asked if there was a way to provide the same treatment in a less invasive way that doesn’t require brain surgery.”