From left, the Tremtex team members are Ian Graham, Melody Tan, Erin Reisfeld, Shruthi Rajan and David Blumenstyk. (Photo by Will Kirk/Johns Hopkins University)

From left, the Tremtex team members are Ian Graham, Melody Tan, Erin Reisfeld, Shruthi Rajan, and David Blumenstyk. (Photo by Will Kirk/Johns Hopkins University)

A team of graduate students from Johns Hopkins University has invented a headband-shaped device they call the STIMband that, according to a release from Johns Hopkins, is designed to deliver noninvasive brain stimulation to Parkinson’s disease patients to help ease their symptoms, including tremor, muscle stiffness, and slowed movement.

The students invented the device prototype during a yearlong biomedical engineering master’s degree program, the release notes. It has not yet been tested on humans, but the release reports that it received recognition at several design competitions and is being viewed as a promising first step toward helping Parkinson’s patients relieve their symptoms at home without going to a hospital or a doctor’s office.

Inspiration to build the device came after the students observed neurosurgery being performed on Parkinson’s patients. One such procedure was deep brain stimulation, which was performed to help ease a Parkinson’s patient’s symptoms, the release explains. During this procedure, electrical leads were implanted into the region of the brain that controls movement. The leads were then connected to a pulse generator placed under the skin below the collarbone.

“We saw that this procedure is really invasive and can take 10 to 15 hours to complete,” says Shruthi Rajan, a team member from Charlotte, NC, in the release.

“It’s also very expensive, and not all patients qualify for the surgery. We asked if there was a way to provide the same treatment in a less invasive way that doesn’t require brain surgery,” Rajan says.

To answer that question, the release notes, the students met with Yousef Salimpour, a Johns Hopkins Medicine postdoctoral research associate who has been studying a Parkinson’s therapy called transcranial direct current stimulation, in which low-level current is passed through two electrodes placed over the head to tweak the electrical activity in specific areas of the brain.

The technique, which is engineered to be used to excite or inhibit these nerve cells, does not require surgery and is reported to be economic, safe, and relatively easy to administer without any side effects, per the release.

“We told [Salimour] we had an idea for a portable home version of this equipment,” Rajan says in the release. “But we planned to add safety measures to make sure the patient used it properly without a doctor or nurse being present.”

The students aimed to build a prototype that could be activated easily, and designed it to deliver current for only 20 minutes daily and only at a physician-prescribed level, the release notes.

To help fine-tune their design, the students met with Parkinson’s patients over a 4-month period. According to the release, the patients help them craft the headband component so that it would be easy to put on, comfortable to wear, and positioned so that the electrodes would remain stable and properly target the motor cortices areas of the brain.

“For a comfortable fit, we put an elastic band in the back and told the patients to put it on like a baseball cap,” says Ian Graham, a team member from Old Saybrook, Conn.

Salimour shares in the release that he hopes that, based on the students’ preliminary work, Parkinson’s patients will receive the benefit of this new technique at home very soon.

With help from the Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures staff, the students obtained provisional patents covering the device’s design.

Another team of students at Johns Hopkins is slated to take over the project in September to further enhance the design and move it closer to patient availability, the release explains. One addition may be a wireless connection to allow a physician to adjust a home patient’s treatment level from a remote location, per the release.

[Photo Credit: Will Kirk/Johns Hopkins University]

[Source: Johns Hopkins University]