October 31, 2013

The Parkinson's Pen: An Earlier Diagnosis?

The internet was buzzing a bit yesterday with reports about a new pen that might bring earlier diagnoses for people with Parkinson’s (PWPs). When people write with this new device, state-of-the-art technology – so its developers believe -- can detect indications of PD sooner than previous diagnostics allowed.

Is that important? One of the messages I heard several times at the World Parkinson Congress in Montreal earlier this month was that – by the time most of us receive our PD diagnoses – most of the damage to our dopamine-producing cells has already occurred. From that point forward, we’re pretty much left with the messy business of damage control.

If PWPs can learn what’s happening in their bodies sooner – before other symptoms like tremor or rigidity occur… and before the dopamine production machinery is effectively compromised – the likelihood of prolonged normal function is increased. What’s not to like about that?

How the Pen Works
Designed by the medical technology company MANUS Neurodynamica in Newcastle, England, the pen -- with its associated complex software – analyzes control of motion in patients’ nervous systems. Comparing the results against a datebase of writing samples from healthy people, the new technology can apparently determine if PD is indicated, or some other neurological disorder.

MANUS Director Dr Rutger Zietsma said:
The pen is a unique piece of medical technology that links ten years experimentation with sensor systems and development of data analysis methods with the key features of Parkinson’s. It’s fantastic to see all our resources in place to finalise the product, after having progressed from initial research through proof of concept stages for the diagnostic application, which resulted in several prototypes and successful trials.
Reps from MANUS report “compelling results” from five years of exploratory trials. Before the company officially markets the pen, it will undergo a final clinical validation using “gold standard” PD DaTScan technology, which highlights blood dopamine levels. Of course, patients could just get a DaTScan, but it’s expensive, requires specialist training, and can be unpleasant for patients. MANUS expects the pen alone to provide similar results, but more simply, and much more cheaply.

Said PD specialist Professor Richard Walker, who is working with MANUS on the project:
Having such a pen means we can hopefully make a diagnosis of Parkinson’s earlier and in those people with atypical symptoms and signs. Some people may not have Parkinson’s and so diagnosing correctly will avoid inappropriate drug treatment.
I find this new development – like so many others – exciting, even if it’s way too late to help me. Today I'd have trouble even holding the fat pen!

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