Parkinson’s is an incurable neurodegenerative disorder that affects more than 7 million people worldwide. Medication can help, but over time it tends to become less effective. For patients in advanced stages, one treatment option is deep brain stimulation. In this procedure, a surgeon implants thin electrical leads into the region of the brain that controls movement. The leads are connected to a pulse generator— similar to a pacemaker for the heart—that is placed under the skin below the collarbone. This implant sends electrical signals to the brain to help cure some symptoms caused by Parkinson’s. This procedure is really invasive and can take 10 to 15 hours to complete, it’s also very expensive, and not all patients qualify for the surgery.
To give these patients another in-home option, Johns Hopkins graduate students have invented a headband-shaped device to deliver noninvasive brain stimulation to help tamp down the symptoms. The 5 student team members were inspired to build the new device after observing neurosurgery being performed on Parkinson’s patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The students aimed for a prototype that would enable a patient to activate the battery-powered treatment by touching a large easy-to-press button. With patient safety in mind, the students designed their prototype to deliver current for only 20 minutes daily and only at a doctor-prescribed level.
The device has not yet been tested on humans, but it is viewed as a promising first step toward helping Parkinson’s patients safely relieve their own symptoms at home or elsewhere without going to a hospital or doctor’s office.
The design has already received recognition at several prominent competitions. With help from the Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures staff, the student inventors obtained provisional patents covering the design of the device, dubbed the STIMband. STIMband is based on transcranial direct current stimulation in which low-level current is passed through two electrodes placed over the head to tweak the electrical activity in specific areas of the brain. The STIMband prototype, which involves no surgery, enables a patient to activate the battery-powered treatment by touching a large easy-to-press button. With patient safety in mind, the prototype delivers current for only 20 minutes daily at a doctor prescribed level. It is inexpensive, safe, and relatively easy to administer without any side effects. It is easy to put on, comfortable to wear, and is positioned so that the electrodes remain stable and properly target the motor cortices areas of the brain. The inventors obtained provisional patents covering the design of the device, dubbed the STIMband.
Another Johns Hopkins team is taking over the project to further enhance the design and move it closer to patient availability. One addition may be a wireless connection to allow a doctor to adjust a patient’s treatment level from a remote location.
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