The movement towards better treatment of Parkinson's

Summer 2015

Motion capture technology has been used in filmmaking and video game development for over a decade. The technology works through a special suit that is worn by an actor. As the actor moves, his or her actions are captured by the suit’s built-in sensory markers, which then relay the information to a computer that recreates the motions digitally.

Intrigued by the potential of this technology to measure and assess movement, LHSC’s Dr. Mandar Jog, neurologist, and engineer Dr. Rajni Patel – both also researchers with Lawson Health Research Institute – are testing how the suits can be used to improve the lives of patients with Parkinson’s by helping physicians understand how well a medical intervention is working to ease symptoms.

For instance, Duodopa is a Parkinson’s medication that is delivered to the patient using a pump system, through a tube that is inserted in to the small intestine. There are a number of different settings and variables that can be programmed, such as how much and how often a dose is delivered.

According to Dr. Jog, Duodopa therapy has incredible potential that may not be currently realized because the proper dosing is not well understood.

“It’s like having a space ship and using a simple stick controller to operate it,” he says. “We are trying to fix this mismatch, so that physicians are able to use the therapies we have available to us to their full potential and patients benefit from the best outcomes possible.”

The challenge to finding the right dose exists because brain function is extremely complicated and difficult to measure, making it difficult to objectively test whether or not the symptoms of a neurological illness, such as Parkinson’s, are improving. Instead, neurologists must largely rely on subjective assessment – that is, the doctor asks the patient how he or she feels the medication is working.

This is where motion capture technology may prove revolutionary.

Dr. Jog’s team has engineered motion capture suits for medical use, allowing the team to track a patient’s movements throughout the course of treatment. Real-time data can be collected that will help physicians find the proper dosage, and ultimately, standardize the assessment of patients.

In addition, the team is also working on making the sensing of the system ‘intelligent,’ so that not only are the suits able to capture the ‘output’ – the patient’s movement, they are also able to measure the ‘input’ – the multisensory information that relays how the patient ‘feels’ the world around them.

As an engineer, Dr. Patel has also helped develop motion tracking technology that measures how well trainee surgeons have honed their precision skills.

“This study includes these same ideas and will help us uncover how movement disorders can be assessed, evaluated and monitored through the use of these technologies,” says Dr. Patel.

For this study, patients who are on Duodopa therapy will wear the motion capture suits for a few hours each day while performing a number of activities, such as walking, sitting, and holding a cup. The suit’s sensors will record these daily activities and provide the researchers with reliable data on the patient’s mobility changes. Eventually, Dr. Jog also hopes to bring this technology into patient homes – saving them time spent in the hospital under monitoring.

In-home monitoring will also make the results, and the dosage, more accurate, as it captures the individual’s natural movements during everyday tasks.

“Once the system has been tested on a group of patients in the laboratory, we will use the data to develop an objective and intelligent set of algorithms that can be used by physicians to optimize Duodopa dosing in their own home,” says Dr. Jog.

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Student Caleb Dartch in the motion capture suit that Dr. Jog and Rajni Patel are using as part of their research on the proper dosing of medicaiton for patients with Parkinson's.
Dr. Mandar Jog (left) and graduate student Greydon Gilmore.