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Measuring Neurological Disorders of Movement

Overview

Cerebellar Ataxia are a group of brain conditions that cause abnormal movement or more specifically incoordination.  

  • Dysfunction within the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls coordination, can result in ataxia – where a person has difficulty controlling body movements.
  • There is currently no accurate way to measure ataxia and doctors have to depend on bedside clinical examination. 
  • Cerebellar Ataxias are one focus of the NeuroMovement Disease Laboratory’s work.
  • Our research, led by Associate Professor David Szmulewicz, aims to provide accurate measurement of neurological disorders of movement using wearable sensors and related systems. 

Why is new technology needed to measure cerebellar ataxia

Cerebellar ataxia often results in imbalance and falls, reduced arm and hand dexterity, impaired vision, loss of speech clarity and communication challenges, disturbed swallow and the risk of choking and pneumonia.

Cerebellar ataxia can be caused by genetic diseases, stroke, tumours or multiple sclerosis.

Being able to accurately measure ataxia will help develop our understanding of these conditions and assist clinicians to monitor the effect of therapies and is very important in the development of new treatments.

Research into an accurate measurement of cerebellar ataxia

Associate Professor David Szmulewicz is leading research into new technology that uitlises wearable sensors and artificial intelligence to produce more accurate measurements of ataxia.

One such suite of devices is called the Ataxia Instrumented Measures system (AIMs).

Using these devices, they have shown they can accurately measure ataxia whilst a patient with ataxia is eating, drinking, speaking, sitting and walking.

The devices are now being used in clinical trials, with the aim of measuring ataxia progression.

A/Prof Szmulewicz is expanding the use of this device to measure further types of ataxia during activities to provide an accurate measure of a broad range of ataxias.

Next steps for Bionics Institute researchers

Associate Professor David Szmulewicz and his team are in the process of setting up clinical trial in remote communities to provide people with limited access to specialist care with an accurate measure of their disease progression, and treatment effectiveness.

Once efficacy of the device has been established it could be used to test potential gene therapy treatments for ataxia.

The devices are also finding usefulness in other diseases that affect movement.

The research team

Bionics Institute lead researchers:

Associate Professor David Szmulewicz and Professor Malcolm Horne

External researchers:

Professor Pubudu Pathirana (Deakin University), Associate Professor Louise Corben (Murdoch Institute), Associate Professor Ian Harding (QMIR Beghofer Medical Research Institute), Associate Professor Hamish MacDougall University of Sydney)

Key publications

  1. T. Ngo, P. N. Pathirana, M. K. Horne, L. A. Corben, I. H. Harding and D. J. Szmulewicz Technological Evolution in the Instrumentation of Ataxia Severity Measurement. IEEE Access 2023; 11:14006-14027. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1109/ACCESS.2023.3243178
  2. Kashyap B, Pathirana PN, Horne M, Power L, Szmulewicz DJ. Machine Learning Based Scoring System to Predict the Risk and Severity of Ataxic Speech Using Different Speech Tasks. IEEE Trans Neural Syst Rehabil Eng. 2023. Epub ahead of print. DOI: 10.1109/TNSRE.2023.3334718
  3. Krishna R, Pathirana PN, Horne M, Corben  L, Szmulewicz DJ. Quantitative assessment of Friedreich Ataxia via self-drinking. IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics 2021;25:1985-1996 DOI: 10.1109/JBHI.2021.3069007
  4. Tran H, Nguyen, KD, Pathirana PN, Horne MK, Power L, Szmulewicz DJ. A comprehensive scheme for the objective upper body assessments of subjects with cerebellar ataxia. J NeuroEngineering Rehabil 2020; 17(1):162 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12984-020-00790-3
  5. Kashyap B, Phan D, Pathirana PN, Horne M, Power L, Szmulewicz D. Objective Assessment of Cerebellar Ataxia: A Comprehensive and Refined Approach. Sci Rep. 2020;10(1):9493  DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-65303-7