A European group headed by Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Spain, is in the process of trialling a cutting edge system with the potential to greatly improve the quality of life for those suffering from Parkinson's disease. The system, known as REMPARK, utilizes a small waist-worn module and headset controlled by a smartphone that will allow doctors to observe and manage the symptoms of Parkinson's in real time.

Parkinson's is a degenerative neurological disease second only to Alzheimer's in the number of individuals it affects. Due to a loss of nerve cells in the brain, the body of someone suffering from the disease becomes incapable of creating the requisite levels of dopamine to properly co-ordinate its motor functions. Furthermore, fluctuations in a patient's motor status over the course of a day make the task of accurately documenting the progression of Parkinson's much more challenging for medical practitioners.

REMPARK hopes to remove this impediment. The wearables that make up the system are controlled, and feed data back and forth, via the patient's smartphone. A phone-sized waist module containing accelerometer and gyroscope sensors detects the patient's cadence as they walk. This allows the device to constantly record ambulatory characteristics such as freezing of gait and falls, both of which are common occurrences for those suffering from the disease, and conveys the data to the smartphone via Bluetooth.

The control unit then pushes this information to the REMPARK server for analysis and communication. The data is sent to the relevant medical database, and should an issue be detected with the patient's movements, the server could prompt an action, such as triggering the headset to provide an accompanying rhythm that would help the patient to regulate his or her movements.

Furthermore, there are plans for an internal medication delivery system that could be automatically triggered via the smartphone should it detect an emergency. However, this system is in the early stages, and will be investigated and tested in subsequent medical projects.

If adopted, the REMPARK system would cater for a higher level of out-patient care, allowing medical practitioners to tailor treatments to a specific individual's needs, rather than simply putting a patient on a more standardized treatment plan that would require more regular hospital visits.

The system is currently being trialled by 50 patients from a number of countries in a non-laboratory setting, with initial results reported to be positive. A full report on the trial will be presented in a workshop in Madrid on April. 30.