Parkinsons Tremors Data Collection and Analysis

During the past twenty years, only very minimal advance has been made regarding Parkinsons Disease. This is even though organizations such as the Michael J Fox Foundation have collected and spent several billion dollars to do what they consider to be "research".

I guess their approach is fairly common among Medical Research. Some Doctor or Researcher makes some assumptions that some medicine or treatment or some combination of two or more medicines MIGHT have beneficial effects. Then many millions of dollars of funding are accumulated and a "Trial" is arranged, which is essentially some number of volunteers who have the specific condition are willing to sign some papers to allow themselves to be used as guinea pigs, to see if there is actually any benefit.

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In the middle 1990s, Michael J Fox himself permitted a Doctor to dig into his brain to disconnect some areas, which were thought to be likely to be somehow related to Parkinsons. I realize that Mr. Fox has massive amounts of available money, while I do not, so Mr. Fox was able to make his brain available for that experiment. Even though I already shared Parkinsons with Mr. Fox during the 1990s, there was NO way that I would have allowed any Doctor to open up my skull and start disconnecting parts of my brain! MAYBE, fifty years in the future, when a LOT more Medical knowledge might be available to Doctors, might such an operation make much sense. But in the 1990s or even now in 2012, there simply is not yet enough Medical knowledge to cause me to sign any Release Forms to allow a Doctor to be making educated guesses regarding what parts of my brain he might want to try disconnecting.

In any case, MY approach to the subject is that of a Research Physicist! Rather than counting on powerful and experimental drugs to dull the brain and nervous system effectiveness, or to experimentally disconnect some areas of the brain, I try to examine the actual performance of how the nervous system works. I know that bioelectrical signals travel FROM the brain to the hand through interneurons which pass through the middle of the arm. What if a computer could be added to an upper arm to detect certain patterns of Tremor-like signals and then to quickly introduce an 'opposing' bioelectric signal into that interneuron to keep that Tremor signal from ever GETTING TO the hand?

I have not gotten very far in this research. I HAVE discovered that the Tremors in my LEFT hand are rather different from the Tremors in my RIGHT hand! Intensity (amplitude), direction, and frequency seem to be totally different for my two hands. I wonder if there is some REASON for this difference? Do I do different exercises or motions of my two hands, where one is beneficial in reducing Tremors? I am not rich enough to fully study these issues.

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MY approach to trying to learn about Parkinsons is VERY different from that, and it is actually the logical and methodical approach that a Theoretical Physicist might follow.

The people at the Michael J Fox Foundation have told me that they have no interest in being involved in my approach. The person I talked to made it clear that they spend their time trying to get Donors to give them many millions of dollars, and then trying to get Parkinsons sufferers to agree to participate in Parkinsons Trials that they contract with Doctors and Researchers to perform on the volunteers.

They are trying to collect what we Physicists call "basic research", but on live humans. It is a rather scary approach, from the view of actual Research.

MY approach regarding accumulating Basic Research is very data based. For example, I had described to the Fox Foundation that I personally plan to strap a rather simple ultrasonic transducer (high frequency speaker, above anything we can hear, at 200,000 hz) to the back of each of my palms. The small device will have a digital timer where the transducer will send the audio sound waves as a very brief pulse of sound, exactly once every second.

I want to have at least three ultrasonic microphones in the room with me, one attached to the ceiling above me and the other two attached to different walls in the room.

IF I can find some electronics hobbyist or technician to wire up these devices, I am confident that less than $200 total cost will be involved!

Each of the three microphones will send its heard pulse to a standard PC computer. The PC contains a very accurate clock, and it acts as an INTERVAL TIMER between when that clock passes an exact 1/20 second and the time of the receipt of the ultrasonic pulse. What this determines is the amount of time that passes between the signal being sent by the device on my wrist and the time the sound wave is heard. Since sound waves travel at about 1100 feet per second, and the carrier frequency is 200,000 cycles per second, each pulse count represents about 1/16 inch difference in path length.

In other words, if my hand moves just 1/16 inch up or down, the microphone on the ceiling will change in interval count by ONE. This system monitors the vertical position of my hand every twentieth of a second. Once the data has been accumulated in the PC's memory, a mathematical analysis of that data can show a graph of the position during a 10-second or a minute or an hour interval. If the graph would show a repeating pattern of five of these Tremor cycles per second, this would be DATA that no one else has ever collected before.

It turns out that a standard technique of Physics called a Fourier Analysis can learn if that data pattern is actually a combination of two or five or ten different Tremor frequencies. A wonderful bonus of Fourier Analysis is that the AMPLITUDE of each frequency is also determined.

Note that I plan to have THREE (or more) ultrasonic microphones, along all three of the X, Y, and Z axes. The Fourier Analysis can analyze vector data so the component Tremors can be determined for Tremors which are in any direction, of any Amplitude, and of any Frequency.

This seems like incredibly important data to be accumulating in order to know WHAT CAUSES Tremors, and maybe WHAT MIGHT STOP them.

The fact that this system can continue to collect such data for every minute of a day, it might also be found that the frequency of Tremors might change at different times during a day.

I am pretty sure that is an actual fact, which no one else has apparently ever even been aware of before. I often believe that my tremors tend to be more severe (greater amplitude) between 7 am and 8:30 am (although I do not yet have enough data to know WHY that might be the case). I also think that sometimes my Tremors are rather fast while at other times, they seem much slower.

What if a person generally had Tremors that were always about the same frequency. If that happened to correspond to some natural body cycle, such as heartbeat or respiration or blood flow to the brain, it might suggest a focus to examine as a possible cause. If instead, Tremors changed either frequency or amplitude shortly after eating meals or drinking water or Coke or alcohol, it might suggest further study of how such stimuli might have any causative effect regarding Tremors.

What if it should be discovered that Tremors were greatly dependent on drinking coffee? Instead of a Doctor having to operate on someone's brain or prescribe powerful medicines, he might instead be able to tell the Patient simply to stop drinking coffee, or to drink more coffee!

BASIC Research needs to be dependent on massive data collection. NOT of letting some Doctor or Researcher make assumptions to try experiments on living humans!

Even better, imagine if a thousand Parkinsons patients each collected such data for a week. The Fourier Analysis of all that data might quickly show very specific areas to study Medically.

In an amusing sidelight, even a thousand sets of this sort of equipment should cost a total of maybe $200,000, which is ridiculously minimal when compared to the billions now collected from Donors and spent in Medical Trials.


This presentation was first placed on the Internet in April 2012.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago