How this small wearable could help doctors spot Parkinson's earlier

The low-cost ENTy wearable, which has been tested on over 500 patients so far, seems to have a future helping diagnose people with balance issues.

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ENTy gathers real-time data from its accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyroscope to help treat patients' balance problems.

Image: ENTy/Microsoft Romania

A medical device the size of a bar of soap may one day help doctors treat patients suffering from dizziness and vertigo more effectively. Those balance issues, which affect at least 20 percent of the population at some point in their lives, are often the result of inner ear, spinal posture, or brain problems.

Three computer-science students at the University Politehnica of Bucharest, Romania have now developed a piece of wearable tech that doctors could use to detect such inner-ear conditions, but also to track Parkinson's disease.

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Thanks to their invention, the students recently picked up Microsoft Imagine Cup's World Championship and Innovation prizes, securing $50,000 to develop the product further.

The device, called ENTy, aims to replace the bulky and expensive medical equipment currently used by doctors to assess balance problems. It has a simple strap that allows it to be worn on the head or the back to check balance and spine posture in real time.

ENTy uses an algorithm that gathers real-time information from its sensors, which consists of an accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyroscope. Then, the data is sent to Microsoft's Azure SQL database for processing.

"The device gives doctors access to affordable and high-technology medical equipment," ENTy business developer Flavia Oprea says.

The idea behind the device came from Madalina Georgescu, an ear, nose, and throat doctor specializing in audiology, who is working with the device's developers on testing. The group consists of hardware architect Iulian Matesica, UX designer Cristian Alexandrescu, and their technical mentor, assistant professor Daniel Rosner.

Patients wear the device while they perform several exercises such as Romberg's test, during which they have to stand steady with their feet together and arms out to the front for 20 seconds. During the procedure, they keep their eyes closed.

ENTy's main purpose is to assess balance, yet Flavia Oprea says it could also be used for the early diagnosis of diseases such as Parkinson's.

"If you experience loss of balance, it could be a Parkinson's symptom," she says. "The advantage is that with ENTy you might be able to spot symptoms early on and have a better chance of delaying the disease."

Oprea hopes the product will be available in a year, at the latest. In the beginning only a select group of medical doctors will be able to work with the device.

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