Warming up the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, which affects 145,000 Britons, could relieve symptoms such as tremors in 70% of patients
- Targeted ultrasound treatment, which warms the brain, can help Parkinson’s patients
Warming up the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease can relieve common symptoms such as tremor and unsteadiness in the feet.
The treatment involves warming up parts of the brain to destroy faulty cells and works in 70 percent of patients — with benefits lasting up to a year, according to new US research.
It involves wearing a helmet that emits high-frequency energy while the patient sits under an MRI scanner, which beams images back to doctors to see which areas to target.
The procedure, called focused ultrasound, is already available on the NHS to treat a movement disorder called essential tremor.
Results of the study suggest that it is just as effective in treating Parkinson’s disease. The researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that three-quarters of those who underwent the procedure saw a reduction in tremor and mobility problems, compared to just one-third of a control group.
Warming up the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease can ease common symptoms such as tremor and unsteadiness in the feet (file photo)
About 145,000 people in the UK have Parkinson’s disease and there is no cure. It happens when cells that make the chemical dopamine — crucial for movement — die, disrupting the signals sent between brain cells. This can cause tremor, balance problems and stiff muscles.
Doctors can prescribe medications, such as levodopa, that help increase dopamine levels in the brain. But they can cause more mobility problems with prolonged use, among other things. Surgery may also be offered.
This is called deep brain stimulation, where a device similar to a pacemaker is implanted in the chest wall. It is connected to small wires that run through the parts of the brain that need repair.
The electrical current produced by this reprograms the faulty brain signals that cause the symptoms. But it requires major surgery and only a small number of patients are fit enough to endure it.
However, focused ultrasound does not involve surgery and patients can go home the same day. It uses strong ultrasound waves – 40,000 times stronger than those used in ultrasounds – to heat and destroy areas of the brain that send false signals.
Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (pictured), found that three-quarters of those who underwent the procedure saw a reduction in tremor and mobility problems, compared to just a third of a control group
The procedure takes several hours and does not involve anesthesia.
Dr. Becky Jones, from Parkinson’s UK, says the study results offer hope that focused ultrasound could be a potential treatment for the disease.
But she warns, “We still need more insight into the side effects and why targeted ultrasound might work for some people and not others.
‘More research is needed before this can be available to people with Parkinson’s on the NHS.’