ET Insights from Dr. Claudia Testa

On December 6th, I met with Dr. Claudia Testa of the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Parkinson’s & Movement Disorder Center. She is one of the foremost experts on genetics concerning Essential Tremor (ET). She told me that there is a good possibility that ET is not caused by a single change in a single gene. This means there is not one mutated “ET gene” that can just be corrected. Instead, there are probably many different genetic changes that add up to ET. This highlights the challenges faced by those doing the research regarding ET. The longer I am the Executive Director of HopeNET, the more I appreciate the challenges faced by these researchers. As I have said many times, the brain is the most complex object known to man.

However there is good news that should help the research process. First of all, many researchers are taking the approach of not labeling patients but rather grouping them according to the symptoms they share. In other words, not simply grouping those with ET or Dystonia but rather, those with severe hand tremor, voice tremor and problems with balance – for example.

Another positive development is the desire to have Common Data Elements (CDE) for ET. Quite simply, this would help ensure that researchers compare apples to apples & oranges to oranges.

The picture in creating better treatments and ultimately a cure is daunting. But the picture has never looked better than it does now. There is hope.

– Peter

Speech to Text Technology Writes for You

microphone-clipart-9tpekegncIn the early 1990s, a number of companies started to offer software that was designed to convert spoken words into text that could then be displayed or printed. Among the early commercial offerings was a program entitled “Dragon Naturally Speaking”. In 1994, I tried an early version of Dragon in my workplace. After installing a microphone to my computer, I spoke several sentences rather slowly, and watched words appear on the computer monitor. Unfortunately, there were quite a few errors in the written text, and I chose to stick with keyboard entry.

Now, more than two decades later, Dragon NaturallySpeaking has been improved such that for many users with hand tremors (from E.T., Parkinson’s Disease, Dystonia, and other causes) it performs well enough that it can serve as a person’s primary method for entering text into a computer.

Most modern cell phones offer users the option to speak into their phone to generate an email, a text message (or iMessage), a memo, or a variety of other “text” inputs. Those with iPhones (the iPhone 4s or newer) or iPads can ask “Siri” a wide variety of questions by voice. Many newer automobiles are capable of responding to driver voice commands (tune radio to FM 107.9; turn on air conditioning, call home, etc.). The number of “things” that can respond to human voice commands continues to grow. All of these capabilities rely on speech recognition technology.

— Fred Berko