Diagnostic tool IDs Parkinson's in earliest stages

Researchers from RMIT University have developed a diagnostic software tool capable of identifying patients with early Parkinson’s disease—before physical symptoms appear. The tool aims to provide patients and providers with the ability to treat Parkinson’s more effectively by addressing the disease in its earliest state.

Currently, neurologists have no test for Parkinson’s, who are only able to treat the disease after nerve cells have already been damaged.

"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 chief investigator Dinesh 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.”

In a study testing the accuracy of the tool, published in Frontiers in Neurology, researchers enrolled 62 participants. Half of the participants showed no symptoms while the other half included patients with mild to severe Parkinson’s. Participants were asked to complete a guided sketch of a spiral, which was analyzed in real-time with a tablet device to determine if the individual showed signs of Parkinson’s. Results showed the tool was able to provide data on the severity of the disease with 93 percent accuracy.

"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,” said Kumar.