Anyone who has had a family member or friend with Parkinson’s disease knows the problem: The person with the disease suddenly stops walking as if frozen to the spot, and it may take minutes before their muscles finally respond to the body’s command to continue moving.
Of the estimated one million people in the U.S. living with Parkinson’s and suffering its symptoms, about 60 percent experience freezing, but medications have minimal effect on the condition.
[caption id="attachment_200352" align="alignright" width="321"] Theresa Litherland | Photo c/o Resonate Forward[/caption]
As “freezing” is one of the most frustrating manifestations of the devastating disease, it became a natural target of research at the University of Delaware’s Parkinson’s Clinic at STAR Campus. Under the early leadership of Ingrid Pretzer-Aboff, at the time a member of the Health Sciences faculty and now on the nursing faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University, a team developed “PD Shoe,” which utilized a remote-controlled electronic stimulation device within the patient’s footwear. Now that technology has been much-refined and is in the process of being taken to market by the startup Resonate Forward, under the brand name “VibeForward.”
“About three years ago, I was at the Parkinson’s Clinic and met Professor Pretzer-Aboff and saw the work that was being done with PD Shoe at that time,” says Theresa Litherland, a co-founder and president of Resonate Forward. “I’ve been working in Parkinson’s for 20 years and hadn’t seen anything like that in a long time. So I said, ‘Let’s start a company!’”
Resonate Forward came a step closer to bringing the therapeutic shoe to market with a $440,000 grant awarded early last year by the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Simply explained, VibeForward is a lightweight, battery-powered, electronic device that fits into the patient’s footwear and provides an electronic stimulus by means of vibration. Its microprocessor is activated by a smartphone app. Not only does the device cause therapeutic stimulation, it also has sensors that log data — 10 times per second — on things like the pace and direction of movement and pinpoint the time at which a patient gets stuck. This information can later be accessed for evaluation and possible action by a physician or clinician.
[caption id="attachment_200355" align="aligncenter" width="840"] VibeForward | Photo c/o Resonate Forward[/caption]
Freezing or gait trials will get underway this summer with Parkinson’s patients at Virginia Commonwealth, which is also doing tremor trials for Resonate Forward under the direction of Pretzer-Aboff. “A patient in trials can use VibeForward for 20 minutes a day, three times a week,” Litherland says. Initial results seem to indicate that stimulation from the vibration may be helping to “retrain” a physical response mechanism in the patient that lessens freezing for up to two weeks, although that still needs to be clinically proven.
From a business development standpoint, Litherland says Resonate Forward is actively seeking angel funding to continue work made possible by the Fox foundation grant. The company’s early funding came via the Horn Entrepreneurship Blue Hen Proof-of-Concept program and Delaware’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). “We license the technology through the [University of Delaware’s] Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships,” which will get royalties once VibeForward is commercialized, says Litherland. Any improvements made by Virginia Commonwealth would be licensed to that university, Litherland says.
Once the clinical trials are completed, the results will be evaluated by the FDA. “The technology has worked well in trial therapy, so I cannot see VibeForward not coming to market,” Litherland says.