Healthcare News & Insights

New surgical implant helping neurology patients

In this guest post, writer Katie Lewis discusses deep brain stimulation, a revolutionary new treatment for patients with neurological disorders. 

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Man With Battery Driven Brain Makes Man With No Name An Old StoryFor Andrew Johnson, this is indeed a new life. A Parkinson’s patient, he suffers from all sort of problems associated with Parkinson’s disease including issues of imbalance, voice problems, continuous and uncontrollable body shaking etc etc.

Now it all disappears, as if he is using a magic wand. Yes, I would like to call it a magic wand; it is as simple as striking one. Here, what he does is, he hits a button. Check out this video to find out yourselves.

As you see it starts with Andrew talking normally, like any other person. When he switches off the button, you can see what his actual condition is. He is back to what he has been without the aid of the ‘button’; the disease makes its wild entry again, within the split of a second.

What ‘button’?

Andrew Johnson’s case is an exemplary one regarding the new surgical procedure in the medical field. This is called “deep brain stimulation”. What is done in this particular method is that the neurons that cause shakes and tics are controlled here. For the same, electricity is added or subtracted.

This kind of surgical method is being embraced all over the world. It is not making a person enslaved to some external technology. But it in fact lets the person use the system in the way he wants to. It shows an example of how the surgical implants are subtly designed to get the desired outcome.

Deep brain stimulation

“Deep brain stimulation” (DBS) implants like this have now become popular all over the world to treat many neurological disorders. Most commonly it is now used to help people who are suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Dystonia, Meige Syndrome or essential tremor. DBS is also used to treat chronic pain as well.

According to neurosurgeon Andres Lozano, the area of disturbances inside the brain are identified first, then the circuits within the brain are intervened with the help of electricity. “We use electricity to dictate how they fire and we try to block their behavior using electricity,” Lozano said.

Deep brain stimulation does not damage healthy brain tissue. As mentioned above, it blocks electrical signals from certain identified areas in the brain. Patients whose symptoms cannot be adequately controlled with medications may be treated with DBS.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved DBS as a treatment for essential tremor in 1997. Following that, the approval for Parkinson’s disease came out in 2002. DBS was approved for dystonia in 2003.

Battery-operated device

A battery-operated medical device called a neurostimulator is the device in use here. It is similar to a heart pacemaker. The function of this device is to deliver electrical stimulation to targeted areas in the brain that control movement, blocking the abnormal nerve signals that cause tremor and Parkinson’s disease symptoms. The device is approximately the size of a stopwatch.

To identify the target area

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scanning is used to identify and locate the exact target within the brain where electrical nerve signals generate the Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

Microelectrode recording is also used by some surgeons.  It comprises a small wire that monitors the activity of nerve cells in the target area.

After the implantation is done, the electrical impulses are sent from the neurostimulator up along the extension wire and the lead and into the brain.

The lead is a thin, insulated wire that is inserted through a small opening in the skull. It is also called electrode. The extension is an insulated wire that is passed under the skin of the head, neck and shoulder. The extension connects the lead to the neurostimulator.

Follow-ups

Deep brain stimulation is a relatively complex therapy. It requires regular neurological follow-up. The battery lasts for three to four years and it needs to be changed after the prescribed tenure.

DBS is not the last resort for people who had undergone all kinds of treatments and used all combos of medications. The surgical implant has actually improved the quality of life for many people whose life was hell before due to movement disorders.

Apart from the potential risks like bleeding during the surgery, it has been shown that the procedure can help in keeping the symptoms under control, thereby helping the patients to lead a normal life.

About the author: The article was written by Katie Lewis from Dothealth.com, an Informa business healthcare portal for healthcare professionals.

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