September 26

Shoe-mounted laser to ‘unfreeze’ people with Parkinson’s scoops €1 million prize

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The Path Finder device was invented in 2014 by Danish entrepreneur Lise Pape, whose father suffered from Parkinson’s disease. It aims to help people overcome a particular symptom of the disease – freezing of gait – in which people stop walking and are unable to restart.

‘People describe it as this feeling of being glued to the floor and being unable to step forward with their feet, despite having the intention to do so,’

said Pape. ‘In fact, 70% of all falls in Parkinson’s are thought to be due to this symptom.’

One peculiarity of gait freezing is that it is relatively easy for people to overcome – if they have an external visual cue to help them keep going. ‘What researchers found is that people mostly struggle on flat floors, whereas on staircases people are generally fine (because) they have this rhythm for every step,’ said Pape.

The Path Finder builds on this principle by using a small laser that clips on to someone’s shoe and projects a green line in front of their foot, replicating the idea of having a stair to climb.

‘Our device … is in a way converting the staircase into a wearable product that you can have with you so you don’t have to change your environment,’ said Pape, who explains that it works by helping people to focus their attention on walking. Studies have shown that the laser shoes significantly reduce the number of freezing episodes as well as the amount of time someone is frozen.

In 2017, Pape’s company Walk With Path, took its product to market as a medical device, selling it to both individuals and health care systems mostly in Norway, Denmark and the UK. With the prize money, she wants to better promote her device in Europe and launch in the US market.

The Horizon Prize for Social Innovation, which is awarded for the best solutions to improve the mobility of older people, was presented to Pape by Carlos Moedas, the EU’s Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, on 24 September in Brussels, Belgium.

The idea behind social innovation is to find solutions to societal problems and this year’s prize focuses on one of Europe’s major challenges over the next century, an ageing society. According to the European Commission’s own statistics, the proportion of Europeans aged over 65 will grow from 17.5% in 2010 to nearly 30% by 2060.

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