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A team of researchers are looking for volunteers in the South West of England to take part in a study which will assess a new technology for detecting Parkinson’s disease at a very early stage.

One of the ways scientists are hoping to help combat Parkinson’s is by trying to find ways to detect the disease as early as possible. There is currently no means of reliable diagnosis for the disease and so the outcome of this study could prove to be of tremendous significance to patients and clinicians alike.

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition that affects movement and speech.  At present there is no cure and little understanding as to why some people develop the condition. One in 500 people in the UK, or around 127,000 individuals, currently have Parkinson’s. Worldwide, it is estimated that 10-20 million people are living with the disease and this number is expected to double by 2030. Many of these cases are undiagnosed and untreated.

The technology to be assessed is called the Body Sensor Network (BSN), a system developed over the past several years by Dr Newton Howard (Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences) and Dr John Stein (Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics) at the University of Oxford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Brain Sciences Foundation. The BSN is a system comprised of various body sensors worn on the arms and torso, accompanied by a microphone to record speech patterns and tremor.

The researchers - from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, in collaboration with the MIT and the Oxford Computational Neurosciences Lab - aim to assess the degree of accuracy with which the BSN can distinguish people with early Parkinson’s (diagnosed within the last five years) from those unaffected by the disease. In addition, the study will determine whether the system is able to reliably distinguish Parkinson’s patients from those with other neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Members of the research team are looking for 20 volunteers from each of these groups – a total of 60 recruits.

The study will involve a single visit to the research centre in Plymouth lasting two hours. Here, participants will be asked to perform a series of everyday tasks, such as putting on a cardigan or buttering a slice of toast while wearing the BSN system.

The study in Plymouth is being led by Dr Camille Carroll, a Consultant Neurologist and researcher at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry.

She said: ‘BSN has the potential to be developed into an exciting and valuable tool for the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s. If successful, it can go on to play a vital role in improving the quality of life and care programmes for people with the condition. Early interventions show better outcomes for patients.’

Notes to editors

For more information about getting involved with this study, please call research nurse Sandra Morgan on 01752 432047.

The study is supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula. For further information, please visit http://clahrc-peninsula.nihr.ac.uk.