While Parkinson’s is considered the fastest-growing neurological disease in the world, there are currently no biomarkers for diagnosing the disease or tracking its progression—meaning doctors have no way to tell someone has Parkinson’s without examining physical symptoms, such as a tremor and rigidity in movement. Because of this, the disease is currently only diagnosed after physical symptoms progress, which is usually a few years after the onset of the disease.
…the disease is currently only diagnosed after physical symptoms progress, which is usually a few years after [its] onset…
However, a research study published in late August shows that a new device can detect Parkinson’s disease during sleep and even measure its progression over time.
In the study, led by Dina Katabi of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and published in Nature Medicine, researchers developed a device to detect Parkinson’s during sleep by “extracting breathing from radio waves that bounce off a person’s body during sleep.” The goal was to predict disease severity and track progression over time.
Researchers studied a group of 7,671 people. More than 750 had already been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and the remaining had not. These participants were included in a number of sleep studies from various clinics, and some were observed in their homes.
Two types of devices were used in the study: a breathing belt worn around the waist and a device that attaches to the wall and measures wireless signals.
The participants observed at home wore a device for the first couple of weeks to help differentiate their breathing patterns from anyone else who may share the room. Afterward, a device was hung on the wall to measure breathing patterns without coming into contact with the study participant.
The research showed the device was highly effective in detecting Parkinson’s and possibly could lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease and provide a method of testing the effectiveness of experimental medications and devices.
The research showed the device was highly effective in detecting Parkinson’s and possibly could lead to earlier diagnosis…
“Even if you had a neurologist in the room, observing the people sleeping, I think it’d be unlikely that they would be able to identify Parkinson’s based on evaluations of breathing at night,” said Ray Dorsey, a professor of neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center and co-author of the study.
Dorsey said the device also shows the power of observing people in their natural environment.
If distributed more widely, the device could detect Parkinson’s in the comfort of people’s homes, without them having to wear anything or interrupt their typical routine.
“It’s kind of odd that, in general, we ask patients with diseases… to come see us on our terms,” Dorsey said. “We should be seeing patients on their terms.”
“And now we have devices like [this one] that can measure people’s health in their home in natural environments,” he added. “If we marry those measurements with better care that’s delivered into the home or evaluation of much needed novel therapies for Parkinson’s disease in the home, we can improve the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s disease [and] provide care that’s more accessible and available to more people with Parkinson’s disease.”
The device isn’t available to consumers yet. Researchers are currently studying people for a two-year period to collect more data. Dorsey said researchers are also using the device on people who have a higher genetic risk for Parkinson’s disease.