Applying Vibrotactile Stimulation to Improve Parkinson’s

Podcast, Videos


Lucy Jung, CEO & Founder of Charco Neurotech, joined me to share how meeting members of the Parkinson’s community catalyzed the founding of Charco and how innovative medical devices and software can improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s and other chronic conditions.

Here is a sneak peek of our conversation:

Q: When you actually understood that there was a problem to solve, we call it sometimes systems thinking as well, what made you decide that there may be a technology-associated or medical device opportunity to solve that? What was currently in the market? And why were you coming up with a novel idea that would surpass what’s already currently a standard?

A: I absolutely love this question. The design came from user research, if I may say. I’ve done kind of several projects focusing on diseases and long-term conditions before as well and the method that I really believe in is, you talk with people first. How we started was like the gentleman that I met in 2015. We went to them and asked them, “What are the struggles they’re going through? What are the symptoms or what are the limitations that they have and that they hope can be solved?”. The other thing that we asked was, “What kind of things help them in daily life?”

Lots of people ask us where did the idea come from and I will say, “I talk to people with Parkinson’s because they’re living daily life with the symptoms.” There were these little tips that they had like, “that actually helps me when I do X, Y, Z.” We asked them, “So you got these problems, what are the things that actually help them during their daily life?”. Then we started, focusing on the stories that people share where they say, “When I sit on a massage chair, it really helps with my symptoms.” And instead of just saying, “The massage chair helps you”, we actually focus on what is it that the massage chair is doing to help with the symptoms.

From then onwards, we listened to them, and there were lots of stories where gardening and using the mower helped with their symptoms, when they use an electronic toothbrush, and it helped with their symptoms. We really looked into that and because we’re coming from a product design background, we looked into what is the mechanical side of the things that were helping. Then we started looking into whether we can mimic that and then afterward, we created a prototype. Obviously, there were lots of iterations that we had to go through.

Once again, what we did is we really worked together with people with Parkinson’s to listen to them. What they think helps them more, what are the stimulations that helped them, and what kind of symptoms they felt were helpful. Along that line, what we have been doing was looking at the literature of current clinical trials or the history of what has been done in this sector. We actually have realized that since the 19th century, this phenomenon has been studied for a long time.

It was Professor Charcot, the father of neurology, who actually found that people who come to him on a carriage ride had better symptoms than him visiting them. It was because of this bumpy road of the stimulation that actually helped with the symptoms and since then, there were lots of literature where they looked into stimulation helping with the Parkinson’s symptoms.

What we did since it has been a studied phenomenon for a long time and there is modern technology that’s out there, we combined that and made it into a device that can make a real life an individual life. It was very much rather than an idea that just sparked, it was more of the development by talking with people with Parkinson’s, working with them, and doing more studies and research into the area to where we got today.

For more of our discussion, you can watch the whole Fireside Chat with Lucy Jung, or listen to the podcast version, below.

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