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Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center - Richmond, VA


McGuire helps diagnose Parkinson’s much earlier

Eye movement test

George T. Gitchel, Ph.D., records the eye movement pattern of subject Lynn Klanchar.

By Patrick Gordon, Public Affairs Specialist
Friday, October 6, 2017

Early detection of movement disorders like Parkinson’s Disease has been a challenge for many years, but a joint research effort by doctors from McGuire VA Medical Center and Virginia Commonwealth University is changing that.

Dr. George Gitchel, Director of Clinical Research for McGuire’s Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education and Clinical Center (PADRECC), led the development of a system that is helpful with diagnosing movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, tremors, stroke, and many more, based on a five-minute, non-invasive recording of eye movement patterns.

Gitchel said this is the largest and most comprehensive research project that has taken place in the Richmond PADRECC. He conducted the research in coordination with Dr. Mark Baron, McGuire PADRECC and VCU Neurology, and Dr. Paul Wetzel, VCU Biomedical Engineering.

“Data has shown that if it were to be used for differential diagnoses, the research is correct in predicting the diagnoses in about 98 percent of cases,” said Gitchel. “Whereas a movement disorder specialist is correct 80 percent of the time, and a general neurologist is correct only around 50 percent.”

This revolutionary breakthrough is focused on assisting with diagnosis of all movement disorders much sooner than traditional methods, and with greater accuracy by using quantifiable and objective information from the patient, as opposed to the traditional purely subjective clinical exam. Results of the study also suggest the ability to detect preclinical stages of Parkinson’s disease, potentially 15 years before outwardly visible symptoms emerge.

Gitchel said his group has received a $1 million grant from the Michael J. Fox Foundation. This will allow for continued research, both within the VA and at other sites.

“The implications are staggering for how significantly this will impact the field of neurology, health care costs, misdiagnosis rate, patient and caregiver burden, medication response, quality of life, and more,” Gitchel said.

Thanks to the overwhelmingly compelling nature of this research, Gitchel and his team have licensed the technology to a company named RightEye LLC, who will soon make it available to the public. RightEye acquired the technology in an exclusive license through a VCU technology transfer program, in equal partnership with the VA. Royalties will be split equally between VCU and the VA. The product is being rapidly developed and should be available for sale to clinicians nationwide soon, but a firm release date has not been set.


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