Health Watch -- Brain Stimulation

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Could electricity replace medication for some patients?

Nearly a million Americans suffer from Parkinson's disease. This neurological disorder causes stiffness, trembling and problems with balance and coordination. There's no cure yet for this disease, but medication and surgery can help patients manage symptoms.

A new procedure may even replace medication for the management of some Parkinson's symptoms. In this procedure, doctors implant tiny electrodes into specific portions of a patient's brain. These electrodes are controlled by a pacemaker device that sends electrical energy through the electrodes into the areas of the brain that control movement. This helps improve the stiffness, tremors, weakness and other symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease.

Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas who perform this procedure say it works much like medication does, but the electricity can be more precisely controlled for better results. Electricity can be delivered steadily and adjusted in small steps to provide the best results with the fewest side effects.

Dr. Cole Giller, a UT Southwestern neurologist and radiologist, has pioneered the use of an optical scope for this procedure that helps surgeons implant the electrodes even more precisely in the brain.

This procedure isn't a cure for Parkinson's disease. It's a degenerative disease, which means it gets worse with time. Even though the electrodes help patients function better, the brain cell degeneration that causes Parkinson's disease continues.

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March 2004

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