By: Katie Campbell
Parkinson’s disease, a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that destroys dopamine-producing neurons in the midbrain, is responsible for over 100,000 deaths per year. Characterized by motor symptoms such as tremors and muscular rigidity, there is no cure for Parkinson’s, so treatment focuses on controlling the symptoms. Sometimes this treatment can include surgery on the affected region of the brain.
Dr. Jeff Elias at the University of Virginia School of Medicine has pioneered a less-invasive, scalpel-free, way to treat Parkinson’s patients though the use of focused ultrasound. This technology focuses sound waves into a small, hot spot in the body. This hot spot interrupts faulty circuitry or destroys unwanted tissue without needing to cut into the skull. MRI imaging is used during the surgery to monitor the location of the procedure.
An initial test, published in JAMA Neurology used this form of brain surgery to patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. 62% of patients treated with focused ultrasound showed improvement in their hand tremor as compared to patients treated with a placebo procedure who showed a moderate reduction in symptoms suggesting a placebo effect. Despite this, the researchers believe that the decrease in side-effects associated with the less-invasive treatment warrants further, large-scale studies of the efficacy of focused ultrasound. Overall, the researchers are optimistic that this provides a new, safe way to relieve Parkinson-related symptoms and significantly improve patient’s quality of life.
University of Virginia Health System. "Focused ultrasound shows promise for treating Parkinson's tremor: Study examines potential of scalpel-free surgery to manage tremor." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 October 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171030141327.htm>.
Kalia, Lorraine V, and Anthony E Lang. “Parkinson’s disease.” Lancet, 20 Apr. 2015, pp. 896–912., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25904081