Virtual Reality System Being Tested That Might Detect Parkinson’s Disease

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by Kara Elam |

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Parkinson's disease research

A collaborative effort between two Russian technology institutes may result in a virtual reality system that is able to detect and diagnose such neurodegenerative diseases as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis.

According to the Virtual Reality Society, virtual reality systems would allow a healthcare provider to conduct diagnostic assessments without the need for more invasive, costly, or time-consuming tests.

With this system, the patient would be immersed in a virtual environment and asked to conduct various tasks. Throughout the evaluative tests, researchers will change the parameters of the virtual environment and then record changes in the patient’s movements.

The system uses Google Glass, an already established virtual reality technology, and is based on people’s ability to adjust to a slope that begins changing as soon as they put on the glasses.

There is a motion sensor embedded within the technology that detects changes in the patient’s body position at 20 designated points. If a person using the system has no underlying neurodegenerative abnormalities, then these 20 points will show a capacity to  quickly adapt to the changes that person is experiencing in the virtual universe.

If there is an underlying condition, such as Parkinson’s, then the patient will be unable to quickly adapt, and the 20 points that the system monitors will show this in the data analysis portion of the diagnostic test.

When explaining the technical aspects of the system, Dr. Ivan Tolmachov, senior instructor at the Tomsk Polytechnic University Department of Industrial and Medical Electronics, and an associate professor at Siberian State Medical University, said in a press release: “In the experiment, we tested how [virtual reality] influences people. The procedure took almost 10 minutes. The experiment engaged both healthy people and those whom doctors had already diagnosed. Currently, we can’t say if a person is healthy or not, or make a diagnosis. But thanks to the system, we can say how much a patient’s condition differs from a healthy person’s.

“We have also found out how people with different diseases react to a virtual environment. For instance, people with Parkinson’s disease exhibit hand tremors,” he said.

Tolmachov and his team predict that the entire study will take about another year, and they foresee this system being used for not only diagnostic purposes, but for patient rehabilitation as well.