Charco Neurotech’s CUE1 raises a smile for Parkinson’s sufferers
Published: 13:44, 28 May 2021
Updated: 15:22, 25 August 2021
Charco Neurotech’s first trials of its wearable device for people with Parkinson’s are proving so successful that the test candidates are reluctant to hand the gadget back to the medtech start-up.
The company, which was incorporated in June 2019, has developed the CUE1, a non-invasive way to ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s by providing a vibratory stimulus to the peripheral nervous system.
The founders, Lucy Jung and Floyd Pierres – currently based at Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) and with an office in London – met a man 2013 who lamented: “I am very happy now but I look angry because Parkinson’s disease took away my smile.”
Since then, their aim has been “to bring smiles back for people with Parkinson’s”. The project started while studying at Imperial College and Royal College of Art in 2018.
“Shortly after graduating we joined a pre-accelerator programme at CJBS and we’re now on the Accelerate Cambridge programme,” explains Lucy. “I looked into it and it’s like they are trapped in their body, so I started looking into their quality of life. Even a slight improvement leads to a huge increase in their quality of life, so that got us motivated.”
The CUE1 device is based on techniques developed by Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893), a French neurologist and professor of anatomical pathology, whose studies in 1868 and 1881 were a landmark in the understanding of Parkinson’s disease.
“He is considered ‘the father of neurology’ as we know it today,” says Floyd. “He had patients who seemed better visiting him than when he went to their home and he felt that it was to do with the journey, and as a result he designed a vibro-tactile stimulation chair, and more evidence has been gained since his invention.”
Lucy is the CEO and Floyd, a medical clinician who worked at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, leads the seven-strong medical research team as chief medical officer.
The CUE1 combines the principles of focussed vibro-tactile stimulation and cueing, which have been shown to improve motor performance and help with freezing of gait respectively.
“The beta devices have been out there for more than two weeks,” says Lucy. “We’re finding more positive responses. People are accusing the testers of using performance-enhancing drugs! The reality is that they don’t want to let the instrument go. One said that as soon as the device ran out of charge he felt tired and debilitated. Another said he was despondent when the device wasn’t there and another reported no falls while using the device.”
Just five units have been shipped so far, while the waiting list features 3,000 patients all eager to have their turn. The first public launch of the units is expected in November, priced at around £295 – “to ensure people with Parkinson’s can afford it”.
The company has been underwritten with significant investment. The first round, in October 2019, raised £200,000, and a second round of fundraising concluded in November 2020 with £545,000 raised from Imperial College, Amadeus Capital Partners, Crista Galli Ventures and Oxbridge Angels.
A current round is expected to close in the next few months and will be used for “scaling up production, opening up regulatory pathways in different countries and scaling up the number of team members”.
CUE1 helps improve motor systems, rigidity and posturing. The device can be paired with the Charco app which has features including medication reminders. During initial user trials, “user’s movement improved by an average of 16 per cent, with every participant feeling some improvement, additive to that of their medication”.
“The focus is on Parkinson’s but there are possible applications in stroke, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries,” adds Floyd.