Rhode Island Professor Receives More Funding for ‘Smart Glove’ for Parkinson’s Patients

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by Mary Chapman |

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a University of Rhode Island (URI) professor nearly $250,000 to help commercialize a “smart glove” for Parkinson’s disease patients.

Kunal Mankodiya, PhD, an associate professor of engineering, is developing the glove that can capture wearers’ movement data. Designed for those with PD or other movement disorders, the technology can help physicians customize patients’ exercise and treatment regimens.

The two-year project grant is through the NSF’s Partnerships for Innovation program, which helps researchers accelerate innovations that address significant societal needs. The project received NSF funding earlier.

“This funding will enable us to take a deep dive into the world of fusing different domains, including conductive fabrics, wearable electronics, human-factors design and smart textile manufacturing,” Mankodiya said in a press release. “I’m glad that the NSF created such grant programs where innovative technologies could find their way to the marketplace over the years.”

It’s been three years since Mankodiya, with the help of students in his Wearable Biosensing Lab, designed the first prototype of the glove. “We’ve performed significant research on the smart gloves over the years. We decided that it’s time to transition this technology from research to market. However, the transition is not straightforward. It will require very focused, narrow research to finalize the physical, digital and analytical components of the smart gloves,” he said.

Nick Constant has been there since the start. The URI electrical engineering doctoral student designed the proof-of-concept glove that earned the original NSF grant. Along with Mankodiya, he also wrote the new grant proposal. “Its ultimate outcome seemed clear from the beginning, but building a new technology takes time and testing,” he said. “We have seen this glove go from a hopeful idea to gaining traction in reality through different design iterations and consultations with stakeholders.”

Constant’s charge these days is to find project collaborators knowledgeable about areas such as manufacturing, supply chains and medical device regulations. Ultimately, the team wants an affordable glove that’s relatively easy to manufacture.

Neurologist Umer Akbar, MD, project collaborator and co-director of Rhode Island Hospital’s Movement Disorders Program, specializes in those living with Parkinson’s, and sees a definite need for the wearable device. “The challenge with studying the many symptoms of the disease is that they fluctuate throughout the day,” he said. “The short window physicians have into their patients’ lives is often inadequate to verify the symptoms, so we sought to develop wearable technology that can remotely and objectively provide clinical data which can help us better treat our patients.”

In a pilot study to take place in Mankodiya’s lab, at Rhode Island Hospital, and in patients’ homes, up to 30 Parkinson’s patients will try the glove.

Andrea Hopkins has worn the glove a few times since its development. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2002, the former URI assistant vice president of public affairs eagerly awaits the finished version.

“There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but if doctors can monitor their patients remotely using the smart glove, it would enable them to assess how the medications are working,” she said.

Many stand to benefit from the glove’s successful development. The neurodegenerative disorder affects roughly 1 million U.S. residents, and more than 10 million individuals globally.

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