Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) have developed an iPhone app that may enable Parkinson’s patients and others with neurological conditions to collect data on hand and arm tremors and relay the results to medical personnel.
The application could replace subjective tests now used to assess the severity of tremors, while potentially allowing more frequent patient monitoring without costly medical visits.
The program — known as iTrem — could be offered later this year by the App Store. But iTrem will first undergo a clinical study at Emory University and must receive any required approvals from the Food and Drug Administration.
“We expect iTrem to be a very useful tool for patients and their caregivers,” said Brian Parise, a research scientist and principal investigator for the project, along with Robert Delano.
iTrem utilizes the iPhone’s built-in accelerometer to collect data on a patient in his or her home or office. The application directly tracks tremor information currently, and in the future will use simple puzzle games to record tremor data, which will then be processed and transmitted.
Researchers expect the clinical trial to show that data gathered by the program would allow physicians to remotely monitor the degree of disability, progression, and medication response among patients with tremor-related conditions.
iTrem’s developers are working with the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) to form a startup company based on iTrem and future applications that might take advantage of iPhone capabilities.
The GTRI team plans ongoing development of iTrem’s interface, based on responses from doctors and patients. They’re also investigating other consumer technologies with diagnostic potential, including the tiny gyroscopes now available in some cellular phones.
Future developments will include the addition of several other Parkinson’s related tests and investigation of gait analysis in a joint effort with the University of South Florida and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, Tampa, Fla.
Complex diagnostic procedures such as electroencephalography and electromyography are objective and thorough, Delano said, but are rarely performed because they’re lengthy, expensive, and require a clinical setting. The result is that little data about tremor has been available to track the effectiveness of medication and therapy over time.
A clinical study involving iTrem use is expected to start soon at Emory University’s Movement Disorder Clinic. The study will be led by Stewart Factor, MD, a researcher in the field of Parkinson’s disease at the Emory School of Medicine.
“Currently, doctors observe tremor during office visits and rate it on a subjective scale of zero to four. That approach seemed outdated to me, considering all the technology now available,” Delano said. “My wife Heather, who’s an engineer, remarked that maybe that we could try putting some accelerometers on my arm. That made me think of the accelerometer in the iPhone — and here we are.”