New tool spots Parkinson’s early

Researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) have developed the world’s first tool to diagnose Parkinson’s disease even when there are no physical symptoms.

The tool offers hope for more effective treatment of the condition.

Currently, there are no laboratory tests that can diagnose Parkinson’s when there are no apparent signs or symptoms.

By that stage, it’s too late, as the nerve cells in the brain will have already suffered irreversible damage.

The new diagnostic software works with already available technologies, has an accuracy rate of 93 per cent and could one day be used as an early screening test.

Chief investigator Professor Dinesh Kumar said that, if Parkinson’s disease could be diagnosed before the onset of symptoms, there could be many effective treatment options for the condition.

“Pushing back the point at which treatment can start is critical because we know that by the time someone starts to experience tremors or rigidity, it may already be too late,” said Prof Kumar.

“We’ve long known that Parkinson’s disease affects the writing and sketching abilities of patients, but efforts to translate that insight into a reliable assessment method have failed – until now.

“The customised software we’ve developed records how a person draws a spiral and analyses the data in real time. The only equipment you need to run the test is a pen, paper and a large drawing tablet.

“With this tool we can tell whether someone has Parkinson’s disease and calculate the severity of their condition, with a 93 per cent accuracy rate.

“While we still have more research to do, we’re hopeful that in future doctors or nurses could use our technology to regularly screen their patients for Parkinson’s, as well as help those living with the disease to better manage their condition.”

Over 80,000 Australians and a total of 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease.

It is the second most common neurological disease in Australia, behind dementia.

“We’re excited by the potential for this simple-to-use and cost-effective technology to transform the way we diagnose Parkinson’s, and the promise it holds for changing the lives of millions around the world,” said Poonam Zham, the PhD researcher who led the study by the RMIT biomedical engineering research team.

Do you, or does someone you know have Parkinson’s disease? Would you like an early warning of this condition?

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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