VR training to reduce falls in Parkinson’s, dementia

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Tel Aviv University’s Jeff Hausdorff has created a virtual reality treadmill system in an attempt to prevent falls in Parkinson’s  and  dementia patients.

Current interventions focus on improving muscle strength, balance and gait.  By integrating motor planning, attention, executive control and judgement training, using VR, therapies can also address the cognitive issues associated with falls.

In a recent study of 282 participants,  146 did treadmill + VR training, and 136 did treadmill training alone. VR patient foot movements were filmed and shown on a screen, in order for them to “see” their feet walking  in real-time. The game-like simulation included avoiding and stepping over puddles or hurdles, and navigating pathways. It also provided motivational feedback.

Fall rates were similar in both groups before the training. Six months after, those who participated in the VR intervention fell 50% less. Those who did not train with VR had consistent fall rates. The biggest improvement was seen in Parkinson’s patients.

Patients can receive the combined therapy at the Hausdorff-led Center for the Study of Movement Cognition and Mobility at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital.

Click to view the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center video.


Join ApplySci at Wearable Tech + Digital Health + NeuroTech Boston – Featuring Roz Picard, Tom Insel, John Rogers and Nathan Intrator – September 19, 2017 at the MIT Media Lab

Future hearable sensors could track physical, emotional state

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Apple has filed patent applications describing wireless earbuds that monitor health while a wearer talks on the phone or listens to music.  This has obvious exercise-related implications, but could potentially track the physiological impact of one’s emotional state while making calls, as a mobile mental health tool.

Sensors included in the patent include EKG, ICG, VO2 and GSR.

Click to view patent applications:

Patent 1   |   Patent 2   |   Patent 3


Join ApplySci at Wearable Tech + Digital Health + NeuroTech Boston – Featuring Roz Picard, Tom Insel, John Rogers and Nathan Intrator – September 19, 2017 at the MIT Media Lab

Soft, flexible “skin-like” electrodes could improve brain interfaces

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Stanford professor Zhenan Bao‘s latest flexible electronic initiative is the development of a plastic electrode that stretches like rubber but carries electricity like wires. This could be improve implanted brain interfaces which require soft and highly sensitive materials.

In a recent paper, Bao’s team describes the chemical modification of  brittle plastic to make it highly bendable, while enhancing  electrical conductivity. A more seamless connection between stiff electronics and flexible organic electrodes in our bodies is achieved.

According to lead author Yue Wang, “One thing about the human brain that a lot of people don’t know is that it changes volume throughout the day, It swells and deswells.”  Current electronic implants can’t stretch and contract with the brain, making it difficult to maintain a good connection.

Click to view Stanford University video.


Professor Bao was the keynote speaker at ApplySci’s recent Wearable Tech + Digital Health + NeuroTech conference at Stanford.

Join ApplySci at Wearable Tech + Digital Health + NeuroTech Boston – Featuring Roz Picard, Tom Insel, John Rogers and Nathan Intrator – September 19, 2017 at the MIT Media Lab

Carbon electrode technique tracks dopamine in the brain

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Michael Cima and MIT colleagues have developed a more precise tool to measure dopamine in the brain, to be able to study its role in in learning, memory, and emotion.

The new carbon electrode based technique can cover more of the brain, and provide longer, more accurate neurotransmitter readings, than previously possible.

The goal is a better understanding of neurtransmitter related diseases, and potential therapies to boost dopamine levels, in conditions that dysregulate it, such as Parkison’s disease.

According to lead author Helen Schwerdt: “Right now deep brain stimulation is being used to treat Parkinson’s disease, and we assume that that stimulation is somehow resupplying the brain with dopamine, but no one’s really measured that.”


Join ApplySci at Wearable Tech + Digital Health + NeuroTech Boston – Featuring Roz Picard, Tom Insel, John Rogers and Nathan Intrator – September 19, 2017 at the MIT Media Lab

Thin, flexible, insulated sensor could monitor the heart for 70 years

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Northwestern’s John Rogers has developed a sensor that can monitor electrical activity irregularities in the heart for 70 years.  The sensor is much safer and more refined than current technology, which degrades easily, and can harm patients.

An array of 396 voltage sensors are set in a very thin, multi-layer, flexible substrate,  meant to attach to the outside of the heart, covering a significant portion of the organ. Previous sensors arrays picked up signals through direct contact between a metal conductor and human tissue. The new array is covered with an insulating layer of impermeable silicon dioxide. This is a dramatic improvement on metal conductors, which corrode and allow biological fluids to leak through, which can lead to a short circuit and, potentially, ventricular fibrillation and cardiovascular collapse.  Previous attempts at  the adding an  insulating layer have been too thick for the signal to be recorded effectively.

According to Rogers: “You want this layer to be as thin as possible to enable a strong electrical coupling to the surrounding tissue, but you need it to be thick enough to serve as a robust barrier to water penetration.”  He seems to have achieved just this.

Rogers believes that with a larger surface area and more nodes, the sensors could one day cover most of the body’s organs . He will test whether they can both collect data and deliver energy to an organ, such as a pacemaker, or be able to study the underlying function of the brain.

Professor Rogers was a speaker at ApplySci’s recent Wearable Tech + Digital Health + Neurotech Silicon Valley conference, on February 8, 2017, at Stanford University.)  He will  present his latest work our upcoming Wearable Tech + Digital Health + Neurotech Boston conference, on September 19th at the MIT Media Lab.

Magnetic coils might improve neural prostheses

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Neocortex stimulation is used to treat neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and paralysis. Current electrode-based implants have limited efficacy. It is difficult to create precise patterns of neural activity, or to achieve consistent responses over time.  This can be addressed by magnetic stimulation, but until now, coils small enough to be implanted into the cortex were not thought strong enough to activate neurons. Shelley Fried at Harvard has created a microcoil design that  has been effective for activating cortical neurons and driving behavioral responses.


Join ApplySci at Wearable Tech + Digital Health + NeuroTech Boston – Featuring Roz Picard, Tom Insel, John Rogers and Nathan Intrator – September 19, 2017 at the MIT Media Lab

Sensors inform skilled nursing care

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IBM has partnered with Avamere skilled nursing facilities to sudy the use of cognitive computing to improve caregiver knowledge and actions. By embedding sensors that gather physical and environmental data in  senior living facilities, Avamere hopes to reduce hospital admission rates.

Patient movement, air quality, gait analysis and other fall risk factors, personal hygiene, sleeping patterns, incontinence and trips to the bathroom will be monitored. IBM will  analyze the data to create an understanding of each patient, and be able to predict and hopefully prevent negative outcomes.

One Avemere company, Infinity Rehab, already integrates sensor – derived health data in physical, occupational, and speech therapy protocols.


Join ApplySci at Wearable Tech + Digital Health + NeuroTech Boston – Featuring Roz Picard, Tom Insel, John Rogers and Nathan Intrator – September 19, 2017 at the MIT Media Lab

Robots support neural and physical rehab in stroke, cerebral palsy

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Georgia Tech’s  Ayanna Howard has developed Darwin, a socially interactive robot that encourages children to play an active role in physical therapy.

Specific targeting children with cerebral palsy (who are involved in current studies),  autism, or tbi, the robot is designed to function in the home, to supplement services provided by  clinicians.  It engages users as their human therapist would — monitoring performance, and providing motivation and feedback.In a recent experiment, motion trackers monitored user movements as Darwin offered encouragement, and demonstrated movements when they were not performed correctly.  Researchers claimed that wth the exception of one case, the robot’s impact was “significantly positive.

Darwin is still evolving (pun intended) and has not yet been commercialized.

At MIT,  Newman Lab researcher Hermano Igo Krebs has been using robots for gait and balance neurorehabilitation in stroke and cerebral palsy patients since 1989.  Krebs’s technology continues to be incorporated into  Burke Rehabilitation hospital treatment plans.


Join ApplySci at Wearable Tech + Digital Health + NeuroTech Boston – Featuring Roz Picard, Tom Insel, John Rogers and Nathan Intrator – September 19, 2017 at the MIT Media Lab

Sensor detects HIV in first week of infection

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Spanish National Research Council researchers have developed a biosensor that detects the p24 antigen protein at concentrations 100,000 times lower than in current techniques. This has enabled the creation of  a test that can detect HIV in the blood within one week of infection. It takes 5 hours, offering results the same day.

The inexpensive sensor combines micro-mechanical silicon structures and gold nanoparticles. Current antigen tests can detect HIV three weeks after infection. RNA tests can detect the virus in 10 days, but cost much more.

According to CSIC researcher Priscila Koska, “The potential for HIV infectivity in the first stage of infection is much higher than in the later stages. Therefore, initiating antiretroviral therapy prior to seroconversion improves immune control and has been associated with benefits in CD4 cell count, a reduction in systemic inflammation, the preservation of cognitive function, and a reduction of the latent reservoir. Logically, its detection is critical to the prevention of HIV transmission.”


Join ApplySci at Wearable Tech + Digital Health + NeuroTech Boston – Featuring Roz Picard, Tom Insel, John Rogers and Nathan Intrator – September 19, 2017 at the MIT Media Lab

MRI, algorithm predict autism before behavioral symptoms appear

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UNC’s Heather Hazlett has published a study showing that an overgrowth in brain volume, determined by MRI scans during the first year of life, forecasts whether a child at high risk of developing autism.

The goal is to give parents the opportunity to intervene long before behavioral symptoms become obvious, which usually occurs between ages 2 and 4.

The study was small, and further research is needed before it can be developed into a diagnostic  tool.

Two groups were studied: 106 high-risk  infants, with an older sibling with autism, and 42 low-risk infants, with no family history. MRI measurements of overall volume, surface area and thickness of the cerebral cortex in certain regions were done at set times between 6 and 24 months. An overgrowth of cortical surface area in infants later diagnosed with autism, compared with the typically developing infants, was discovered.

The researchers then developed an algorithm that predicted autism, based on brain measurements. Approximately 80% of the 15 high-risk infants who would later meet the criteria for autism at 24 months. Using the algorithm, the team also accurately predicted which babies would not develop autism by age 2.


Join ApplySci at Wearable Tech + Digital Health + NeuroTech Boston – Featuring Roz Picard, Tom Insel, John Rogers and Nathan Intrator – September 19, 2017 at the MIT Media Lab