August 30, 2006

Electric stimulation improves Parkinson symptoms

By Gene Emery

BOSTON (Reuters) - Electrical impulses delivered to two
areas of the brain that control movement alleviate the symptoms
of Parkinson's disease more effectively than drugs alone,
according to a study in Thursday's New England Journal of

About 1 million people in the United States suffer from
Parkinson's, a movement disorder that makes limbs rigid and can
produce body tremors. Drugs help keep the symptoms at bay, but
not completely, and not always over the long term.

"In carefully selected patients, neurostimulation of the
subthalamic nucleus is a powerful treatment that alleviates the
burden of advanced Parkinson's disease," wrote the team, led by
Gunther Deuschl of Christian Albrechts University in Kiel,

Twenty-one of the study's 38 authors, including Deuschl,
listed financial ties to Medtronic Inc., whose Activa brand of
deep brain stimulation therapy was tested in the study.

Earlier studies have shown that using implanted electrodes
to apply high-frequency electrical stimulation to the brain can
improve symptoms. But questions have lingered over whether the
technique works better than drugs, or if the surgery involved
in implanting the electrodes is worth the risk.

One of the patients in the study died from complications of
surgery, which costs $50,000 to $60,000.

The study included 156 volunteers from 10 medical centers
in Germany and Austria.

After six months of treatment, patients who received
electrical stimulation and drug therapy had a 25 percent
improvement in symptoms. The 78 who received drug treatment
alone had no improvement.

"The greatest improvement occurred in activities of daily
living," the researchers wrote. They found that the average
amount of time that Parkinson's rendered patients immobile each
day declined from 6.2 hours without brain stimulation to 2
hours with it.

"The patients who received neurostimulation had longer
periods and better quality of mobility," the researchers

Three patients who received the electrical stimulation died
-- one from surgery, one from suicide and one from pneumonia.
There was one death in the medication-only group. The cause was
a traffic accident where the patient was driving during a
psychotic episode.