Los Angeles: Scientists, including those of Indian origin, have developed a 'smart glove' with sensors that can help doctors accurately rate muscle stiffness in patients with cerebral palsy or stroke, and accordingly prescribe the right dosage of medication.
People with cerebral palsy, stroke and multiple sclerosis, live with stiff muscles every single day, making everyday tasks such as extending an arm extremely difficult and painful for them.
Since there is no foolproof way to objectively rate muscle stiffness, these patients often receive doses of medication that are too low or too high.
"Our goal is to create a system that could augment existing medical procedures by providing a consistent, objective rating," said Harinath Garudadri, a research scientist at the University of California San Diego in the US.
"Many clinical exams and procedures are very subjective and rely on measurements that are done with a physician's hands," said Andrew Skalsky, from the Rady Children's Hospital in the US.
"We often make major medical decisions and diagnoses based on touch and feel. With this technology, we can start to develop objective measurements for subjective processes," said Garudadri.
The level of muscle stiffness, known as spasticity, is typically evaluated using a six-point rating scale called the Modified Ashworth Scale.
This scale is the current hospital standard, but it is subjective and often yields ratings that vary from one doctor to another. These ratings help dictate the dose of medication patients are prescribed to manage their spasticity.
Inconsistent and inaccurate ratings can either lead to dangerous overdose or ineffective treatment as a result of doses that are too low.
The device is built on a regular sports glove that a doctor can wear while holding and moving a patient's limb back and forth.
Taped onto the palm are more than 300 pressure sensors that measure the amount of force required to move a patient's limb. A motion sensor taped on the back measures how fast the limb is being moved.
The glove is connected to a computer via USB. Data from all the sensors are transmitted to the computer, where they are integrated, processed and mapped in real time using advanced signal processing algorithms.
The computer provides a numerical reading that calculates the actual power required to move a patient's limb - the more power needed, the more severe the patient's spasticity.
"We're instrumenting the doctor instead of the patients," said Padmaja Jonnalagedda, an electrical engineering graduate student who worked on refining the algorithms.
"It's more convenient for patients to not have to wear all these sensors all over their bodies. It's also more practical to equip just the doctor when you think about the large patient to doctor ratio, especially in developing nations or rural areas around the world," she said.