Doctors regularly check patients’ hand-eye coordination to monitor any neuromuscular deficits, particularly as they age or when they are injured, but the tests may be subjective and qualitative. To more clearly assess changes, researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Hebrew SeniorLife, Boston, recently completed the first clinical study of a new rapid neuro assessment device they developed to quantitatively measure neuromuscular performance.

In the study, 150 healthy people aged 21 to 95 used a stylus to follow a moving target around a circle on a computer tablet. As every person performed this tracing task, proprietary computer methods developed at the Wyss Institute measured people’s deviations from the circular path, which the researchers then analyzed as a function of age, sex, and handedness. Using this approach, a number can be obtained that can show differences in performance between various individuals or conditions. Doctors can then record a score for complexity and motion fluidity.

The team envisions a day when the technology, called “NeuroAssess,” might be used on the playing field and in doctor’s offices regularly.

Now that baseline data have been collected from a healthy population of study subjects, the next goal is to determine the technology’s potential to become a quantitative assessment tool for groups of people with neuromuscular pathologies, such as those who suffered concussions or have multiple sclerosis.