Catalan scientists develop the first device to ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in real time

The Parkinson symptoms detector device will help patients fight the degenerative disease and improve their quality of life. The system, partly created by Catalan researchers, now needs to be tested on four volunteer patients from around Catalonia. The initiative has brought together institutions from Italy, Israel, Germany and Spain.


December 2, 2011 11:18 PM

Vilanova i la Geltrú (ACN).- A team of researchers from the HELP project (Home-based Empowered Living for Parkinson’s Disease Patients) has developed the first Parkinson Disease symptom’s detector device. Catalan scientists participated in the creation of this comprehensive system able to administer drug therapy in order to mitigate Parkinson’s disease symptoms right from the moment they appear. The initiative, born in 2009, brings together institutions and companies from Italy, Israel, Germany and Spain. The device is based on a movement sensor and a pump that delivers the medication depending on the information provided by the sensor. All the information provided and that related to the patient’s reactions to the medication are sent to a medical centre via a mobile phone, which is also part of the system. It is designed to improve the quality of life of elderly people who suffer from the degenerative illness when it is at its final stage. It needs to be tested on volunteer patients to check how it operates on a daily basis. The study will be tested on four patients in Catalonia starting in January 2012.

Catalan researchers from the Technical Research Centre for Dependency Care and Autonomous Living (CETpD) –which is part of Catalonia Polytechnic University (UPC)– and the Foundation of the Sant Antoni Abat County Hospital (in the Garraf, in the southern part of Greater Barcelona) have led the HELP project. It has created the first technological device to control the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in an accurate and immediate manner. The initiative, which began in 2009, gathers institutions and companies from four different countries –Italy, Israel, Germany and Spain– and aims to improve the care of patients in an advanced state of Parkinson’s disease. The Catalan scientists designed the technological system and developed part of the device in the Catalan coastal town of Vilanova i la Geltrú, 30 minutes drive from downtown Barcelona.

How does this new device work?

The system consists of a small portable sensor that captures the movements of the patient and a subcutaneous pump that administers the medication that controls the disease. The movement sensor is able to automatically detect any deterioration in the health condition of the patient. It then informs the system of the changes. With this information, the comprehensive system instructs the drug pump to increase the dose in order to counteract the patient’s symptoms. When the patient’s health improves, the dose the pump administers returns to normal. The patient then receives the right dose he needs at the right time and thus avoids the discomfort provoked by the symptoms.

Doctors will be able to monitor the progress of the disease

All the information provided by the sensor related to the patient’s reactions to the medication is sent to a medical centre via mobile phone, which is also part of the system. The Researcher and Geriatrician of CETpD, Alejandro Rodríguez, explained that from the medical centre, specialised doctors can control the devices through the internet and follow the evolution of the condition of the patients that use them, as well as interact with them and intervene when necessary. According to the researcher and member of the CETpD team Andreu Català, there are currently no treatments for these patients that are capable of dealing with the symptoms at the exact moment they begin, because normally Parkinson’s disease patients have a fixed medication pattern. This can be insufficient to control the symptoms at certain moments or, in contrast, can be excessive in other cases, and patients can experiment adverse effects.

The testing stage

The device works perfectly at the facilities where it has been developed, but researchers need volunteer patients in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease in order to test the new HELP system. Altogether, 12 sufferers will try the new comprehensive system: four in Catalonia, four in Madrid and four more in Tel-Aviv, Israel. The investigation into the operation of the device and the possible beneficial effects on the patients will start during the first few months of 2012. The chosen patients will be those in an advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease and who are suffering the uncomfortable symptoms of the illness. They must also already have an infusion pump of Apo morphine or are thinking about using that kind of treatment.

The HELP project

The HELP project is subsidised by the European Commission and the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Trade, inside the Ambient Assisted Living Programme, and has a total budget of €4.8 million. The project wants to cover both, medical and social support for patients and thus also help families and carers. HELP involves several companies and research centres from around Europe, among which are the Sant Antoni Abat County Hospital Private Foundation, BarcelonaTech (UPC) and Telefónica Research and Development, Nevet Ltd, from Israel, the University and Hospital of Palermo, from Italy, Telecom Italia S.p.A, and HSG-IMITA and Mobile Solution Group from Germany.