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Brain implant to aid Parkinson’s

20 February 2013

Brain implant to aid Parkinson’s

New hope could be given to people living with Parkinson’s disease.  A trial has shown that an electrical implant to stimulate the brain works better than drugs alone.

The latest trial followed 251 patients from France and Germany who were given deep brain stimulation for 7 years.  The results showed that those having the stimulation had a 26% improvement in quality of life compared to no improvement in those taking drugs alone.

Coordination improved by 50% and activities, such as speech, writing and walking, improved by 30% in those who had the operation.  This group also took less medication and had fewer drug-related complications but those only taking drugs had to up the dosage.

Gunther Deushcl, lead investigator of the study for Germany, said, “These results signal a shift in the way patients with Parkinson’s disease can be treated.  They prove that deep brain stimulation therapy can improve patients’ quality of life even in the earlier stages of Parkinson’s disease, when clinicians traditionally rely solely on drugs.”

Patients receiving the deep bran stimulation (DBS) were fitted with a neurostimulator, similar to a pacemaker, which is connected to electrodes placed in certain areas of the brain.  The implant is connected to a small battery under the skin of the chest or abdomen and is controlled by a hand-held device. When switched on the device blocks the abnormal nerve signals which cause
the disabling symptoms.

Currently, at a cost of £30,000, the operation is only considered on the NHS for patients with very advanced Parkinson’s disease.

Dr Patricia Limousin, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, said, “These results are very exciting for people with Parkinson’s in the UK. Often only patients with very advanced stage of the disease are considered for surgery.  This study demonstrates that deep brain stimulation can lead to a marked improvement in quality of life for people who are earlier in the progression of the disease.  We can offer our patients a truly differentoption to manage early stage motor complications.”

Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Innovation at Parkinson’s UK, said, “This new study is the first compelling evidence to demonstrate that deep brain stimulation – brain surgery traditionally used to treat the later stages of Parkinson’s – may be beneficial for some people in the earlier stages of the condition. In this study of 251 people, the researchers found that that those who had had deep brain stimulation reported a better quality of life two years later, than those who had chosen not to have the surgery.”

He added, “Studies like these are vital to help doctors identify those most likely to benefit, and to make sure people with Parkinson’s at whatever stage have access to this important treatment. However, it is important to remember that not all people with Parkinson’s are suitable for this surgery, and though the results can be dramatic – with a reduction in tremor and stiffness – not everyone who has it will find their lives transformed.  It’s vital to discuss potential surgery with your specialist or Parkinson’s nurse.”