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James McNames
James McNames

Movement Measures

Using technology in the battle against Parkinson's Disease

With no blood test to determine the severity of an individual case of Parkinson's, doctors have had to rely on subjective observation of how patient's movement is impaired. For example, they may ask patients to tap two fingers together and then rate their ability to perform this task on a scale of 0 to 4.

"As an engineer, I saw that as a simple, but crude way to measure something," says electrical and computer engineering professor James McNames. He is now using his background in signal processing to give clinicians much more precise and detailed information about the severity of movement disorders.

McNames is CEO of APDM, Inc., a startup company housed in the Portland State Business Accelerator. The company has developed a wristwatch-like device called the Opal that is the world's most advanced movement monitor.

The Opal is equipped with nine movement sensors that can process over 1000 data samples per second. The Opal precisely quantifies the extent of impairment in simple movements. McNames is applying this technology with doctors at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) to optimize therapy for Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders.

Eventually, McNames says, such devices may even be able to tell a patient when to take their medicine, and at what dosage, substantially improving the quality of life for people with these diseases.

For now, the device is being developed for clinical trials. In one study the Opal tells doctors how long it takes for a tremor to subside after a patient is medicated, and how long the drug works before tremor returns.

McNames directs the Biomedical Signal Processing Laboratory at PSU, and works closely with the Parkinson's Center of Oregon at OHSU.

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