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Using ‘gooey’ caps and Bluetooth to keep Parkinson’s patients moving

BY Rebecca Jacobson  April 8, 2014 at 4:22 PM EST


Science Nation explores how bioengineering is helping Parkinson’s patients and uncovering the secrets of brain plasticity. Video courtesy Science Nation.

For Parkinson’s sufferers, the connection between the brain and the body breaks down. The disease causes nerve cells to die, which leads to rigid movement and tremors.

With the help of computer technology and the brain’s ability to rewire itself, Parkinson’s patients may regain some of the control they have lost. Using a cap fitted with electrodes, Gert Cauwenberghs, a bioengineer of the Jacobs School of Engineering and the Institute for Neural Computation at the University of California San Diego, and his colleagues study neurons in Parkinson’s patients as they move through a series of computer tests.

Their goal is to develop new technologies to help patients with Parkinson’s disease better navigate the world, but these studies also teach scientists how our brain controls our movements. They want to know how nerve cells can create new connections and regain function.

“Parkinson’s disease is not just about one location in the brain that’s impaired. It’s the whole body … We’re using advanced technology, but in a means that is more proactive in helping the brain to get around some of its problems — in this case, Parkinson’s disease — by working with the brain’s natural plasticity, in wiring connections between neurons in different ways,” Cauwenberghs said.

In the video above, Miles O’Brien has more on this story for the National Science Foundation series Science Nation.*

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is an underwriter of the NewsHour.