The University of Virginia will soon begin a study that could help people with Parkinson’s Disease. Doctors will use focused sound waves to modify the brain and – they hope – eliminate or reduce tremors.
The University of Virginia is one of many medical centers experimenting with the use of focused ultrasound. Doctors use soundwaves to destroy unwanted tumors and other tissue they can see using magnetic resonance imaging.
So far, they’ve shown that it’s possible to zap pathways in the brain that are causing unwanted movement or tremors. Fifteen patients underwent the bloodless, outpatient procedure and saw improvement in their condition.
Dr. Binit Shah says a second study, involving other medical centers, is planned for people with essential tremor, and another clinical trial – this one involving 30 patients from Virginia – will involve treatment for tremors associated with Parkinson’s Disease.
Already, doctors know that by burning or zapping some sections of the brain, they can reduce unwanted movement, but using focused ultrasound is less invasive.
“So unlike the other types of treatments which all involve making a small hole in the skull and then using a wire to go down into this deeper structure to either leave there and stimulate with electrical signals or to heat up and cause this burn lesion, we can focus these ultrasound beams, to heat up and cause that same lesion," says Dr. Shah.
And it’s possible, he says, that focused ultrasound could treat other problems linked to Parkinson’s.
“We can potentially make lesions in other parts of the brain. They can have different effects – benefits not just with tremor potentially but also some of the other features, like slowness and stiffness.”
Shah says it will take several years to establish the safety and effectiveness of this treatment, and it won’t be widely available until the Food and Drug Administration certifies that focused ultrasound reduces or eliminates tremors and is safe.