May 12, 2023 — Enterprising students at Northwestern University near Chicago have invented a pen set that allows Parkinson’s disease patients to write again despite the tremors of the disease.
SteadyScrib, a pen designed with these symptoms in mind, aims to counteract the shaky tremors of Parkinson’s with a magnetic core and flexible grip pen. The special pen aims to help with three symptoms of Parkinson’s: tremors, slowness of movement and stiffness.
A thin steel-coated plate and four magnets keep the paper in place. The pen, loaded with a weighted core and held with a smooth grip, stabilizes the shaky motion that often hinders the PwP’s writing ability. The magnetic force of the pen on the clipboard stabilizes the tip of the pen and the user can easily write clearly.
Isabel Mokotoff, a junior journalism major at Northwestern and co-founder of SteadyScrib, said her goal was to create a pen for Parkinson’s patients with an intuitive design.
“I think our core values are that we wanted it to be special, which means there is no writing solution on the market right now that is specifically designed for people with Parkinson’s,” Mokotoff said. “We wanted to tap into that market specifically because there is such a huge difference in quality of life.”
The idea came to Mokotoff when his grandfather, a lifelong writer, lost his ability to write due to Parkinson’s. Mokotoff shared her frustrations with her fraternal sister and Northwestern University biomedical engineering junior Alexis Chan, who teamed up to bring Mokotoff’s vision to life.
Mokotoff and Chan conducted over 100 interviews with Parkinson’s patients, their relatives, and occupational therapists to validate the need for a writing tool for Parkinson’s patients.
He tested several materials before settling on neodymium magnets as the key to creating a pen that would stabilize the vibrations of people with the disease. The students built the first prototype with the 3D printer in Northwestern’s Innovation Lab garage last summer. Then they headed out to test the pen set at a local Parkinson’s support group, Evanston Movers & Shakers.
The SteadyScribe pen set, made with a 3D printer in the garage, is an interdisciplinary entrepreneurship space for students at Northwestern University.
Sissy Lacks, a member of Movers & Shakers, tried out the SteadyScrib pen set and says it performs better than other pens she’s tried before. Lax has had Parkinson’s for 3 years with mild symptoms. As a theater review contributor to the local paper, evanston round tableLooks forward to using the invention to take notes during an interview.
She said the pen set also serves needs such as writing cards for friends and family, filling out forms and questionnaires for the doctor’s office, or writing checks.
“Instead of my hand stopping or getting tired, it went really smoothly,” Lack said. “So my hand didn’t work hard to make it [the pen] Work. And the size of the letters remains the same, which is very important.”
Lacks said that when living with Parkinson’s disease, intention to take action is important. However, this only applies to writing temporarily, as letters become smaller due to dysgraphia, a neurological condition that impairs handwriting in various ways. He said that SteadyScrib can solve this problem.
“I can actually think of writing and it looks cool, but after two lines it can be too short. But that wasn’t the case with this arrangement. It stayed pretty much the same,” she says. .
The SteadyScrib pen set includes a pen with a neodymium magnet core and a metal plate underneath the paper.
Rebecca Gilbert, MD, PhD, chief scientific officer for the American Parkinson’s Disease Association, said she’s seen pots and pens for Parkinson’s patients, but no devices that use magnets to stabilize the vibrations.
Gilbert said Parkinson’s disease affects patients’ motor planning skills, especially when the patient is at rest. Dystonia, or involuntary muscle contractions, and dyskinesia, or muscle spasms, are some of the symptoms that can interfere with the writing process.
According to Mokotoff, more than 1,000 people have given their name to a waiting list for a SteadyScrib set. Demand has outpaced production capacity in the on-campus innovation space, so SteadyScrib is now seeking a partner to help scale production to meet consumer needs. SteadyScrib received five grants totaling $43,680, and Mokotoff said SteadyScrib is working with several potential partners interested in building the product.
Chan said that SteadyScrib plans to add an additional feature to retract the nib to prevent the ink from drying out. SteadyScrib also serves to tailor the pen to users’ Parkinson’s symptoms.
For example, patients fall into a spectrum of Parkinson’s symptoms from tremors to other neurological challenges. Mokotoff said his team is working to adapt these findings for a more inclusive and responsive product.
“We designed our pen [based] on the most common inhibitory symptoms assessed,” Mokotoff said. “But you know, anxiety is not one size fits all.”
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that in severe cases causes difficulty with movement or walking and talking. As symptoms progress, fine motor skills such as writing become increasingly difficult. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disease in the United States after Alzheimer’s.
SteadyScrib is proprietary and co-founders push monthly development updates a newspaper.
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