Nembhard receives funding to lead Parkinson’s disease research

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Harriet Nembhard, professor of industrial engineering and director of the Penn State Center for Integrated Healthcare Delivery Systems, has been awarded $50,000 by the Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI) at Penn State for research relating to remotely treating and monitoring patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Nembhard is the principal investigator of the one-year project titled "Precision Health for Parkinson’s Disease: Advancing Translation with Medical Devices and Technology."

Conrad Tucker, assistant professor of engineering design and industrial engineering; Mehmet Kilinc, postdoctoral researcher in industrial engineering; and Xuemei Huang, professor and vice chair of the Department of Neurology at Hershey Medical Center, are co-investigators.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic condition, requiring costly long-term treatment that affects about 3 percent of the population over the age of 65, explained Nembhard. Through this research, the team is focusing on monitoring movement disorders of Parkinson’s patients so that health care professionals may detect deteriorations in their patients’ health condition in a timely manner.

“If we are successful in this effort, it would be a tremendous asset in the arsenal to protect Parkinson’s patients against falls and support the ability of patients to remain living in their own home,” said Nembhard.

Previous research completed by Nembhard, Huang and Tucker shows that the use of non-wearable sensors can detect gait abnormalities that are common to Parkinson’s patients and thus allow health care professionals to monitor their patients’ adherence to medication and therapeutic protocols. The sensor-based monitoring system that the team developed is referred to as PASS, which represents the four steps of patients, analysis, statistical learning and decision support.

This new research will focus on translating the PASS technology into a functional telehealth device, which will allow for remote monitoring and delivery of health care. 

“The project will enhance the collaboration of engineers and medical professionals and will also engage industry experts — such as emergency medical responders — and health care professionals — such as physical therapists — as advisers at every phase of the treatment,” added Nembhard.

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, as many as 1 million Americans live with Parkinson’s disease, which is more than the combined number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease. Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year and an estimated 7-10 million people worldwide are living with the disease.

The combined direct and indirect cost of Parkinson’s, including treatment, social security payments and lost income from inability to work, is estimated to be nearly $25 billion per year in the United States alone.

“This research is an example of precision health and precision delivery. Organizations that can adapt these tools into their workflow may see both patient and financial benefits,” said Nembhard.

Nembhard’s submission is one of seven proposals that has been selected to receive CTSI’s Bridges to Translation Pilot Project Funding. According to the CTSI website, the pilot funding program is designed to support research that breaks down roadblocks across the translational spectrum through: the development of novel technologies, multidisciplinary collaborations, strategies for dissemination and implementation; training programs for the next generation of clinical research scientists and staff; statistical methods and models to analyze data; and projects that focus on addressing health needs among complex populations across the lifespan.

Last Updated February 28, 2016