ASU team developing Parkinson's device with help from high schooler

ASU team developing Parkinson's device with help from high schooler

A team at Arizona State University is working on a wearable device designed to help people with Parkinson’s disease overcome sudden freezing episodes.

And among the researchers at ASU’s Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing -- or CUbiC -- is one who doesn’t have a high school diploma. Yet.

Shreya Venkatesh, a high school senior at BASIS Scottsdale, is helping program the device’s vibration patterns. That “vibrotactile feedback,” as CUbiC calls it, is designed to alert Parkinson’s patients that a freezing episode may be ahead and help them avoid it.

“Individuals with Parkinson's experience what's called Freezing of Gait, which is essentially their feet feel like they're freezing up in the middle of their walk,” explained computer science doctoral student Arash Tadayon. “So we're looking to predict when this is going to occur and give them a signal to notify them, ‘Hey, you may be entering into one of these episodes. Start taking longer steps to break out of this.’”

Tadayon is serving as Venkatesh’s mentor on the project.

In its current form, the device is designed to be worn on a patient’s sock. It measures the patient’s pace and senses when the individual is straying from their normal walk pattern.

Venkatesh said the team has begun work on a new version of the device, which is designed to be worn as a belt. She joined CUbiC in 2014 as a high school sophomore, and her work on the Parkinson’s project earned her a “Young Scientist of the Year Award” this year -- among other honors.

“I wrote so many letters to so many labs and professors and scientists and just everybody, and I got so many letters saying no,” she said. “It's always awesome when you get to go to this place where experts work and they show you what they do, and you get really excited about that.”

Troy McDaniel, associate director of CUbiC, said Venkatesh has made a big impact.

“She's definitely raised the bar here at CUbiC,” he said. “She's really taken the project to a whole new level. And we owe that to her, in terms of her contributions.”

McDaniel said they’d like to recruit more high school students to work on research projects just like Venkatesh. It could help patients live better lives.

Interested students should submit their resumes via email.