February 4, 2009

Brain Stimulation Could Help Parkinson’s

Scientists are stimulating the brain to find new ways of treating Parkinson's disease; a disease who symptoms include tremors, difficulty moving, and poor balance.

Researchers are investigating if deep brain stimulation eases symptoms by allowing sufferers to deliver electrical pulses to electrodes implanted in their brains.

The St Andrews University team will study what happens in the head when the electrodes are switched on, and determine if targeting different parts of the brain lessens some symptoms.

Professor Philip Winn, from St Andrews University, will work with researchers in Germany, Italy, France and Scotland on the three-year project.

He said he wants to discover answers to a range of questions.

"One is to do with exactly what effect the electrical stimulation is having on the brain.

"Is it the case that we're stimulating activity or is it in fact the case that the stimulation we do, what the electrical pulses do, is actually to shut down activity locally where the electrode is implanted?" Prof Winn said.

He said more effective treatment for Parkinson's could be developed if scientists could understand the effect of the stimulation.

The research team will also consider where in the brain the electrodes should be placed.

"If you put the electrode at the most commonly used site you can inhibit tremors that Parkinsonian patients have, which are very disturbing and distressing to them," said Winn.

"But it's thought possible that if we put electrodes at other sites we can have an affect on the posture and gait problems that patients have.

Winn said those problems are difficult for elderly patients, because they can very easily have bad falls.

Prof Winn believes deep brain stimulation is particularly useful in cases where drug treatments are proving ineffective, "The average age of onset for Parkinson's is round about 61 and at that point you can do quite a lot with drug treatments but as patients get older then the drug treatments tend to have less effect."

However, he believes with deep brain stimulation patients can prolong quality of life quite significantly.


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