Introducing a Smartpen Designed Specifically For Parkinson’s Patients

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In England, a team of students representing both the Royal College of Art and the Imperial College London have developed a self-stabilizing pen that helps patients with Parkinson’s disease and other tremor-educing diseases retain their ability to write legibly. Inspiration for the pen came from Lucy Jung, a 27 year old designer, who after overcoming a brain tumor decided to focus her design efforts on helping patients like those she’d met in the hospital during her treatment and recovery.

The pen, called the Arc, was designed to reverse the effects of micrographia, a common condition developed in patients with Parkinson’s, but also seen in patients with Wilson’s disease and Metamorphsia. Micrographia is a symptom that presents as a part of the brain called the basal ganglia begins to succumb to the underlying neurological disease. The basal ganglia controls handwriting, among other things, and as it weakens, patient’s handwriting becomes progressively smaller and more cramped, eventually leading to illegible handwriting. Micrographia is an early symptom of Parkinson’s and is considered an early warning sign. Most patients that develop micrographia eventually give up both writing and drawing, as there is currently no cure.

Interestingly, the science behind the Arc pen was stumbled upon by chance. The team initially set out to create a pen that mimicked the reality of writing with a tremor so that healthy people could appreciate the difficulty that Parkinson’s patients lived with. For this, the team built a pen with embedded high-frequency vibration motors. To their surprise, they found that test subjects reported that the vibration seemed to improve their control, rather than inhibit it. Further experimentation confirmed the findings, as Jung explains “We went through lots of different possible solutions with the participants and found out that with the right frequency it increased size of the writing.”

With this finding, the team adjusted their course and set out to build a pen that would help the patient’s themselves. After more than a dozen prototypes, the team has created a pen that is showing impressive results in early trials on Parkinson’s patients with micgrographia. 86 percent reported increased handwriting size and an overall improvement in writing legibility. The team is now looking for a R&D firm that can help it further improve the design before planning for a commercial launch.


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