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Friday, 17 August 2018 08:00

Parkinson’s - could a self-tuning implant help stimulate the brain?

While deep brain stimulation has been used to manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease for almost three decades now, there’s been little escape from the negative drawbacks and limitations. With this in mind, researchers have recently developed a new and improved implant which works off real-time feedback from the brain itself. This real-time feedback helps to fine-tune the signalling of this new and improved implant model.

Supported by Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Technologies and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the study bears positive results.

How does deep brain stimulation work?

Traditional deep brain stimulation has been a tried and tested method of treating Parkinson’s for some time now, however this approach comes with unwanted side effects and often requires re-programming by a clinician

The traditional method involves the implantation of an electrode and very thin wire into the brain with the end-goal of stimulating the basal ganglia. While this approach has had its successes, many researchers believe an updated version is long overdue.

The adaptive brain stimulation device

The key to the success of this newly developed device is the fact that it’s adaptive – meaning that the stimulation delivered to the brain is responsive in real-time as signals are received by the brain

Also known as closed-loop, adaptive brain stimulation, this newly developed device also works to counteract the negative side-effects of dyskinesia – or uncontrolled movements, commonly caused by traditional deep brain stimulation.

During a short-term trial, two Parkinson’s patients were fitted with the new adaptive stimulation device. This device works differently in that it can both monitor and modulate brain activity. The adaptive device is implanted into the brain, with an electrode placed over the primary motor cortex, responsible for normal movement.

Signals from the electrode are then fed into a computer program embedded in the device, which then determines whether to stimulate the brain or not according to these signals.

The program is taught to recognise the brain activity associated with dyskinesia or uncontrolled movement. This then works to limit instances of dyskinesia as stimulation is reduced according to real-time signals fired by the brain.

The results

Results of the short-term study went on to prove that the adaptive approach to managing the symptoms of Parkinson’s is just as effective as the traditional stimulation approach. To add to this, the adaptive stimulation approach works to save up to 40% of the device’s battery life because it works off a closed loop and is not actively stimulating the brain 100% of the time.

The reason this new adaptive stimulation is so exciting is because researchers believe they have found the right balance of stimulation in the brain. By targeting the motor cortex instead of the basal ganglia which is highly susceptible to interference from the stimulation current, negative side-effects of over stimulation in Parkinson’s patients can be drastically reduced.

Essentially, the motor cortex is much further away from the stimulation source, which provides a far more reliable and stable signal.

While researchers are positive about the results of adaptive stimulation, much testing is still to be done until this product is released to market. Larger, longer-term trials are now being adapted by the research team in a bid to determine how effective this system will be in the long term for Parkinson’s patients.

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