New diagnostic tool finds first signs of Parkinson’s

Researchers at RMIT University have created the first tool that can diagnose the earliest signs of Parkinson’s disease even before there are symptoms.


The study, published today in Frontiers in Neurology, tested a new diagnostic software developed by researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.
More than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease, which is the second most common neurological disease after dementia in Australia. Currently, there are no laboratory tests for Parkinson’s disease and by the time patients show symptoms, nerve cells in the brain have already experienced irreversible damage.

Researchers developed a customized software that records how a person draws a spiral and analyses the data in real time.

“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,” Professor Dinesh Kumar, of RMIT University, said in a press release.

“The customized 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.”

The study of 62 people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, half showing no symptoms and the other half showing mild to severe symptoms, compared their effectiveness on different dexterity tasks.

Participants were asked to write a sentence, individual letters, a sequence of letters and to sketch a guided Archimedean spiral.

“Our study had some limitations so we need to do more work to validate our results, including a longitudinal study on different demographics and a trial of patients who are not taking medication,” Poonam Zham, researcher at RMIT, said.

“But 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.”

By Amy Wallace