Focused Ultrasound Shows Promise in Halting Parkinson’s Disease Tremors

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine looked at how brain surgery, using focused ultrasound, affected Parkinson's patients.

According to a study, the scalpel-free surgery that uses sound waves resulted in an enhanced quality of life for people with Parkinson's that have resisted other types of treatment. The researchers concluded the treatment offers “comprehensive evidence of safety” in terms of the approach's influence on mood, behavior and cognitive ability.

“In our initial study that looked at the outcomes of focused ultrasound surgery in Parkinson's disease, we primarily described post-operative improvements in motor symptoms, specifically tremor,” said Scott Sperling, PsyD, a clinical neuropsychologist at UVA. “In this study, we extended these initial results and showed that focused ultrasound thalamotomy is not only safe from a cognitive and mood perspective but that patients who underwent surgery realized significant and sustained benefits in terms of functional disability and overall quality of life.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved focused ultrasound for the treatment of essential tremors, which is the most common movement condition. Since then, the technology has demonstrated the potential to reduce tremor in people with drug-resistant Parkinson's disease. The treatment uses focused sound waves to interrupt defective brain circuits that cause overwhelming shaking that’s associated with Parkinson's.

The new study looked at the effects on 27 adults with severe Parkinson's tremors that had not responded to prior treatments. After receiving the treatment, participants reported improved quality of life, including the ability to accomplish simple daily tasks and emotional well-being.
The study also took a thorough look at the psychological and cognitive effects of the technique, finding that mood, cognition and the ability to go about daily life had more effect on participants' assessment of their overall quality of life than the amount of improvement seen in their tremors after the procedure.

“A person's perception of their quality of life is shaped in many different ways,” said Sperling. “Mood and behavioral symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and apathy often have a greater impact on quality of life than the measurable severity of one's tremor.”

The release says the only cognitive debilities observed were the speed in which participants were able to name colors, think of words, and speak words. The cause of this was not clear, but researchers suggest it could be a result of the natural progression of Parkinson's. Focused ultrasound is currently being tested to treat only the tremors associated with Parkinson's, not other symptoms of the disease.

The researchers did note that the study was limited by its small size, the differing medication dose of participants, and other factors.

The findings have been published in the Scientific Journal Neurology.

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