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The University of Maryland Creates a Breakthrough Parkinson’s Disease Treatment

Parkinson’s disease often requires lifestyle changes to create an effective treatment plan. Although it cannot be cured, doctors have found that a combination of medication, aerobic exercise, and other unique approaches can help control individual symptoms.

It’s a challenging disease because there is no standard treatment protocol. Each patient receives a treatment plan based on their individual symptoms, although the first sign tends to be shaking or trembling in the limbs while the body is at rest.

About one million people in the United States have Parkinson’s disease at any given time. This neurodegenerative disorder affects neurons in the area of the brain where dopamine gets produced. [[1]]

The University of Maryland is now offering a new treatment option with a device called Exablate Neuro. The Food and Drug Administration approved this method to treat advanced Parkinson’s disease on one side of the brain. [[2]]

Most people experience the first signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease on one side of the body.

Surgery Used to Be the Only Option for Severe Symptoms

The most common surgical treatment for individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease is deep brain stimulation. It’s usually reserved for those who have tremors and rigidity that stop responding to medication predictably. [[3]]

Surgical treatments for Parkinson’s disease started happening in the early 1950s. Doctors would lesion the affected regions to provide some relief, but it was a procedure that involved significant risks. Even with that understanding, it wouldn’t be until 1980 when chronic electrical stimulation became an alternative procedure.

Any surgery involves risk. When neurosurgeons work on the brain, the odds of problems developing rise even further. That’s why a need for a non-invasive treatment option for severe Parkinson’s disease has been needed for some time.

The treatment method developed by the University of Maryland uses a focused ultrasound. That makes it an incision-less procedure, eliminating the need for in-patient stays, anesthesia, or other costly preparatory courses.

Patients Stay Awake Throughout the Entire Process

Doctors who perform the focused ultrasound have their patients remain fully alert. They lie in an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner wearing a transducer helmet.

As the ultrasonic energy gets delivered, it travels through the skull toward the globus pallidus. That structure is deep in the brain, responsible for controlling a person’s regular voluntary movements.

The MRI images provide real-time temperature maps of the treatment area. Since the patient is awake, they can give feedback to ensure the tissue ablation work proceeds as intended or if adjustments are necessary.

Most patients experience relief from severe symptoms almost immediately with this Parkinson’s disease treatment. It even reduces rigidity in the arms and legs and decreases issues with medication-induced dyskinesia.

This Medical Breakthrough Changes Lives Immediately

Steve Squires received this procedure in 2015 when it was still in the pilot study stage. He’s 46 years old today.

“The focused ultrasound I received at the University of Maryland Medical Center changed my life by giving me back the ability to do the things I love,” Squires said. “I’m in a competitive bowling league. I play golf. I ride my bike.”

Although this treatment method isn’t a cure, there is enough symptomatic relief for patients like Squires that they can return to many of their everyday activities.

This method was tested on 20 patients with a one-year follow-up in a pilot study published in 2021. Nearly everyone participating in the research had clinically meaningful improvements in their disease-related motor-skill symptoms. [[4]]

Only one patient experienced disease progression during the study period, and no one had any severe adverse events.

That means this medical breakthrough delivers a chance to experience hope for those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Doctors don’t necessarily need to prepare someone for a future that involves limited physical capabilities.

This treatment isn’t a first-line defense against symptoms. Treatment plans still include diet and nutrition changes, a focus on emotional strength, and ways to adjust to your different daily living activities when tremors or rigidity occur. [[5]]

“The stellar work… has led to a new era in which this breakthrough modality has not become the standard of care for patients looking for less invasive treatments for their symptoms,” said Dr. E. Albert Reece, Executive VP for Medical Affairs at the University of Maryland. “Our researchers have established themselves as world leaders in pioneering… focused ultrasound for many devastating brain diseases, including Parkinson’s.”

References:

[[1]] https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/parkinson-disease/; [[2]] https://www.umaryland.edu/news/archived-news/march-2022/a-new-era-for-parkinsons-disease-treatment.php; [[3]] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6108190/ ; [[4]] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33481557/; [[5]] https://www.parkinson.org/Living-with-Parkinsons/Managing-Parkinsons

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