April 11 is World Parkinson’s Day, and a moment in time to come together to raise awareness and advance research toward better therapies and a cure for Parkinson’s disease. The day aims to put the focus on this neurodegenerative disease, which currently affects 300,000 – 400,000 people in Germany alone, and provide information about their lives with the disease and current developments in treatment. Today we are talking to Ralph Steidl, CEO and founder of Portabiles HealthCare Technologies, about how their product Mobile GaitLab supports the treatment of Parkinson’s patients.
1. Parkinson’s is a progressive and neurodegenerative condition. How does Portabiles contribute to improving the lives of Parkinson’s patients?
We help patients and doctors to better understand personal symptom patterns so that they can be better treated and avoided. These are in particular “Freezing-of-gait” (suddenly occurring gait blockades) as well as bradykinesia – the drastic slowing down of all movements, up to the so-called “OFF”. These symptoms are the main reason behind the many falls that Parkinson’s patients suffer.
2. Tell us a bit more about Mobile GaitLab and its specific benefits for patients and physicians alike.
Mobile GaitLab is a medical product and consists of motion sensors worn on the shoe, an app that patients can use to annotate symptoms, and machine learning algorithms that analyze gait and symptom patterns over days and weeks. Doctors are informed via a portal if symptoms worsen. At the same time, they immediately see at which times of the day symptom control was lost and can adjust the medication accordingly – these are often five or more Parkinson’s-specific medications. While the medication is being changed, you will receive up-to-date feedback on the effect. This speeds up the therapy process considerably, falls and their consequences can be avoided, and patients and their relatives have an improved quality of life and autonomy.
3. What is your view on the current status of Parkinson’s therapy? What improvements could be made?
Experienced neurologists are very well able to help their patients with therapies – if they know the symptom patterns and can adapt the medication composition to the individual patient. They themselves only see the symptoms 3 times for 10 minutes a year and have to rely on the patient’s memories and diaries – which are mostly very inaccurate or even wrong. Neurologists are comparable to pilots who are very good fliers but have to navigate in the fog with wrong instrument displays. As a result, the medication is often counterproductive – too much dopamine is available in the brain at the wrong time and the patients suffer from overdriven movements, a little later too little dopamine is available and they can no longer move at all. This changes several times a day and is unimaginably stressful for the patients and their relatives.
The Corona crisis exacerbates this situation: for fear of becoming infected, many patients refrain from visiting a neurologist, even if their condition is worsening. A lack of care is the worst that can happen to patients as it can very quickly lead to life-threatening conditions. We provide neurologists with a cockpit with precise instruments that would also allow telemedical care.
4. Portabiles has been part of the EIT Health network for many years now. Last year in May, you received support via the EIT Health Start-up Rescue Instrument. How has the company dealt with the Covid crisis in general?
As a result of the Covid crisis, many clinical studies by pharmaceutical and MedTech companies that are our customers have been postponed. This led to liquidity bottlenecks, which were absorbed by the start-up rescue instrument. This not only allowed us to take our product to the next level, but also to attract additional investors. So the Rescue Instrument was a crucial catalyst in many ways.
5. A final personal statement for World Parkinson’s Day?
We should exhaust all available digital and analog resources to ensure that Parkinson’s patients worldwide have access to optimal medical care. They urgently need it.