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Brain implant brings hope to thousands of Parkinson's sufferers

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 19th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A new form of brain surgery could conceivably bring hope to thousands of Parkinson's sufferers. A two-year trial has proven that deep brain stimulation using an electrical implant is more effective than drugs, and at a much earlier stage in the disease than previously found.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - There was a 26 percent improvement in the quality of life for patients after surgery, compared with no improvement with those strictly on medication.

Tests showed that coordination improved by 50 percent. Activities such as speech, handwriting, dressing and walking were also improved by 30 percent for those having the operation. Respondents also took less medication and had fewer drug-related complications; those on drugs alone had to increase the dose.

The latest trial involving 251 patients in France and Germany gave deep brain stimulation to people who had suffered Parkinson's for around seven years. Trials had successfully tested the procedure on patients with advanced disease, after 12 years.

"These results signal a shift in the way patients with Parkinson's disease can be treated." Professor of Neurology at Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel Gunther Deushcl, and lead investigator of the study for Germany, said.

"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," Deushcl added.

Patients having deep brain stimulation are fitted with a neuro-stimulator, a device similar to a heart pacemaker, which is connected to electrodes placed in certain parts of the brain. The electrical implant is then connected to a small battery under the skin in the person's chest or abdomen to generate small electrical signals to stimulate the brain.

The device is controlled by a hand-held device which can be switched on and off. When switched on, the patient benefits from the blocking of abnormal nerve signals which trigger the symptoms associated with Parkinson's.

About 10,000 people are newly diagnosed with Parkinson's each year, and 125,000 are living with the disease at any time. Most are over 60 years of age, but a significant number afflicted are young.

Described as a progressive neurological condition that causes symptoms of tremor and muscular rigidity or stiffness that can make walking, talking and even writing difficult or frustrating. While there is no cure for Parkinson's, there are a range of treatments help control symptoms.

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