WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - It's a devastating disease more than a million Americans are battling and there's no cure, but local scientists say they're working on a way to make life with Parkinson's more bearable.
For the last year and a half, researchers at William & Mary have been partnering with a team at Virginia Commonwealth University to develop treatment for a Parkinson's symptom called Freezing of Gait; a sudden, involuntary pause while walking that can lead to falls.
"It's almost like a light switch so you can't move your leg. You can actually think 'I want to move my foot' and your foot won't move when you're freezing because there's a neurological break," said Ken Koltermann, a graduate research assistant at William & Mary, who's working on the treatment.
Koltermann says his late grandmother is his inspiration for joining the team, telling News 3 he watched her fall as she battled Parkinson's.
Freezing of Gait is a common Parkinson's symptom that can sometimes benefit, he says, from vibration therapy.
"When you apply the vibration, it's like, 'Oh, okay, now I can potentially move my foot.'"
But the challenge has been applying the therapy as a freezing episode happens.
Koltermann and other scientists under Gang Zhou, a Computer Science professor at William & Mary, have been developing wearable sensors that can detect Freezing of Gait. The information is then transferred to a phone application.
The team at VCU is working on the vibration therapy response, with the hope that it can all eventually be housed in one portable technology.
So far, the partnership has collected data from a handful of Parkinson's patients at a clinic at VCU in Richmond.
On Monday, Koltermann says it'll begin its next phase: collecting data from 13 new patients in one visit and applying the vibration therapy in a second visit.
News 3 is told the third phase, likely two years down the road, will see the therapy tested in public at shopping malls.
The full study is expected to be four years long and is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
"We want everyone to be able to benefit," said Zhou. "No matter [if you're in the] hospital, at home or even if you're working outside, because our device is portable."
Zhou says the research team is already working on a patent for its technology. The hope is to find a manufacturer to mass produce the sensors with a final cost to patients not exceeding $10.
Click HERE for more information about the partnership between William & Mary and VCU.