Emerging Tech

Brain-stimulating implant can turn down Parkinson’s symptoms as required

Special brain implants could help “turn down” the effects of Parkinson’s disease, research shows. The treatment is a variation on conventional deep brain stimulation treatment, which is already used in Parkinson’s patients. Deep brain stimulation involves delivering a current which can help dampen down the activity of certain nerve cell clusters in the brain. However, it can cause unwanted side effects including speech difficulties and unusually jerky movement.

The researchers in a new study believe that they may have found a different approach, courtesy of a type of responsive stimulation that only kicks into action when an excess of beta waves, common in Parkinson’s patients, are detected. This is more like delivering targeted medication only as required, rather than as a constant supply.

In a study carried out by researchers at the University of Oxford, 13 patients with Parkinson’s, whose symptoms meant that they moved excessively slowly, were tested with the responsive stimulation treatment. The approach had the effect of positively countering the patients’ slow movement, while causing reduced levels of speech impediment compared to conventional continuous stimulation. This could have a significant impact on the quality of life of Parkinson’s patients.

But the treatment might not work for everyone. In two patients tested, the responsive stimulation resulted in the recurrence of tremors.

“Beta oscillations is effective in PD patients with bradykinetic phenotypes, delivers less stimulation than [conventional deep brain stimulation], and potentially has a more favorable speech side-effect profile,” the researchers conclude in a recent paper describing their work. “Patients with prominent tremor may require a modified adaptive control strategy.”

This is only one of the multiple high-tech approaches Digital Trends has covered to battle the effects of Parkinson’s disease. Alongside deep brain stimulation, researchers have investigated how special shoes could be used to reduce symptoms, ranging from shoes with in-built laser-pointing tech to ones that incorporate robotic components.

Up to 10 million people worldwide suffer from progressive neurological disorder Parkinson’s disease. Its prevalence ranges from around 41 people in 100,000 for those in their forties to upward of 1,900 people in 100,000 for those aged 80 or over.

This latest piece of research, titled “Acute effects of Adaptive Deep Brain Stimulation in Parkinson’s disease,” is available to read online courtesy of the biology preprint server bioRxiv.

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