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December 20, 2015

New Drexel device advances study of Parkinsonian syndromes

Tool overcomes key obstacle in research

A new device out of Drexel University could help solve an important obstacle in detecting and treating people who suffer from a condition that often manifests itself as Parkinson's disease.

According to the university, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have utilized a device developed at the West Philly college to help identify differences in the brain between those with Parkinsonian syndromes and healthy adults.

Before the new Drexel device, neuroimaging tools used to study the condition were limited to use when the patient was sitting down. But the portable system made by researchers at Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems can be used when the person is standing or walking.

That's important because it allows those studying Parkinsonian syndromes to look at a key part of the brain - the prefrontal cortex - while a patient is performing skills and tasks. More from Drexel:

The device employs functional near-infrared, or fNIR, spectroscopy, which uses light to monitor changes in blood oxygenation in the brain as individuals perform tasks, take tests or receive stimulation. The prefrontal cortex is the area responsible for higher-level processing, such as memory, attention, problem solving and decision-making. When a person is learning a new skill, for instance, neural activity is greater in this region.
Unlike fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), the fNIR system is fully portable: Participants wear a headband, allowing them to talk and move around while a computer collects data in real time.

It's important to note that Parkinsonian syndromes is not in all cases Parkinson's disease. According to Move2Answers, a GE Healthcare website, Parkinsonian Syndromes includes a broader scope, and Parkinson's disease is a form of it.

Drexel notes that Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder where brain cells that control movement die. Those with Parkinsonian syndromes, mostly older adults, do not reach the diagnosis of the disease but have many of the same symptoms; tremor, trouble walking and rigidity are a few.

The work done with this new device found that those with Parkinsonian syndromes used much more oxygen in their brains while performing a simple task than those without it, and opens up new fields of research, according to Drexel.

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