Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have showcased the use of a wireless device that can track the movement and gait speed of persons with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), creating the possibility for clinicians to effectively monitor the progression of their condition remotely.
The system, which utilises a Wi-Fi router like device that bounces low-powered radio waves off a person’s body, can help evaluate the severity of PD, its progression, and how well an individual is responding to treatment.
It allowed the researchers to gather data round-the-clock to deliver actionable insights to doctors, all without getting individuals with PD to leave their homes.
They used the device to conduct a year-long study with 50 participants and claimed that their algorithms allowed clinicians to track the disease’s progression and treatment response more effectively than they would have been able to do with periodic in-clinic visits.
“Monitoring the patient continuously as they move around the room enabled us to get really good measurements of their gait speed. And with so much data, we were able to perform aggregation that allowed us to see very small differences,” the study’s co-author Guo Zhang said in a statement.
The researchers said that the device along with their machine learning algorithms could better serve 40% of persons with PD that do not get treated by neurologists or Parkinson’s specialists. This often happens as these persons do not live near urban centres and find it hard to travel as PD affects mobility.
“…now they (doctors) have real, reliable information that actually goes a long way toward improving equity and access,” said Dina Katabi, a professor at the department of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.
The device which transmits radio signals at a fraction of the power of a Wi-Fi router was developed in Katabi’s lab. The signals it emits are so weak that they do not interfere with any other wireless devices in a house but are powerful enough to go through walls to effectively track a person.
The radio waves pass effortlessly through walls and solid objects but bounce off human bodies due to the water inside making for what the authors call a “human radar”.
Apart from helping monitor the progression of PD, the device could also be used to help clinicians better personalise treatments for individuals. They noticed daily fluctuations in a person’s walking speed, which improved after taking medication and declined after a few hours.
“This enables us to objectively measure how your mobility responds to your medication. Previously, this was very cumbersome to do because this medication effect could only be measured by having the patient keep a journal,” Yingcheng Liu, the other lead author of the study said.