Resonate Forward LLC, has received a $440,000 grant from The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to test a wearable device, called VibeForward, that uses vibration therapy to reduce symptoms of freezing of gait in patients with Parkinson’s Disease. This funding is part of a Fox Foundation initiative launched in 2018 to evaluate non-pharmacological interventions that have the potential to significantly improve the daily lives of people with Parkinson’s, particularly related to the treatment of gait and balance.
Injuries from falls severely impact the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s Disease, as evidenced by Michael J. Fox’s personal account of his recent health issues in New York Times Magazine.
The VibeForward is non-invasive and lightweight, it is worn on the foot inside of a shoe. It does require a rechargeable battery, which does add to the weight. PR images of the current device focus primarily on showing the battery portion, which is strapped to the ankle.
VibeForward is based on technology licensed from the University of Delaware (UD), where early prototypes were developed as part of a project known as PDShoe. Ingrid Pretzer-Aboff, at the time an assistant professor of Nursing at UD (who is now at Virginia Commonwealth University) worked with the research group of Sunil Agrawal, UD professor of Mechanical Engineering, to develop the initial prototype.
In the prototype, vibration in the shoe was synchronized to the heel strike and toe-off of the person wearing it, delivering a vibration every time the foot strikes the ground. The idea was to use the vibration effect to help train the mind for improved motor control. One doctoral student involved in the project noted that the team “observed a therapeutic effect in PD patients after just nine sessions of vibration therapy.”
This video from 2012 shows early prototypes and explains the ideas behind the technology:
This article from University of Delaware Research Magazine also provides more details on the original PDShoe project: https://www1.udel.edu/researchmagazine/issue/vol4_no1/taking_steps.html
It is interesting to note that researchers are not certain as to why the vibration therapy actually works, they only have theories. Pretzer-Aboff, now a VCU senior nurse scientist, said the vibration may trigger an alternative pathway for movement generation in the brain. It also may be that the vibration is stimulating the nervous system, thus enhancing the communication channel between the brain and foot.
Vibration therapy has its roots with 19th century French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, who used vibration therapy to treat Parkinson disease. He developed a vibration chair for patients with PD after he observed that patients were more comfortable and slept better after a train or carriage ride. (More on Charcot: https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/481940)
For more info on VibeForward, here are some good links:
Press Release: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-03/uod-stp030419.php
University of Delaware Daily: https://www.udel.edu/udaily/2019/march/resonate-forward-startup-parkinsons-device/
Resonate Forward LLC Website: https://resonateforward.com