Deepest Part of Brain Unlocked to Treat Parkinson’s
Thursday, 13th October 2011

A University of Queensland researcher has joined colleagues at Oxford University in entering the deepest part of the brain to achieve a breakthrough treatment for debilitating gait freeze in Parkinson’s Disease.

The research, published recently in the prestigious journal of neurology Brain, showed that deep brain stimulation (DBS) to the Pedunculopontine nucleus – a part of the brain located near the stem – was successful in treating gait freeze. The discovery outlined in the article “A block to pre-prepared movement in gait freezing, relieved by pedunculopontine nucleus stimulation” will have a major impact on treatment as current medications do not address these symptoms.

Professor of Clinical Neuroscience, Peter Silburn said gait freeze and postural instability had a significant effect on the quality of life of a significant percentage of Parkinson’s patients.

“People can get stuck in their own homes, unable to move for up to half an hour and when they try to move they fall and fractures can occur. They can become trapped in a lift for an entire day or freeze walking across roads, making this a frustrating and potentially dangerous symptom,” Prof Silburn said.

The cutting-edge DBS technology involves electrodes being permanently implanted into the deepest parts of the brain, without causing harm, to stimulate faulty circuits and restore function. The treatment has had great success in addressing many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.

A multidisciplinary team led by Prof Silburn and neurosurgeon Dr Terry Coyne, world leaders in this field, joined with Professor Peter Brown at Oxford University’s Department of Clinical Neurology to map a pathway for therapeutic electrodes in the Pedunculopontine nucleus.

They were successful in mapping a path for the implantation of electrodes and restoring almost normal movement in 20 patients at St Andrews and Wesley Hospitals in Brisbane, Australia and at Oxford, UK.

Prof Silburn said this research showed DBS treatment to the deepest part of the brain has produced better outcomes for patients, which had major implications for DBS therapy in general.

We targeted the Pedunculopontine nucleus at the deepest part of it – down in the bottom of the brain stem.  This area was previously thought out of reach of DBS therapy so the success of this treatment opens up a whole lot of new options that can now be explored, including insights into how the brain enables people to stand and walk,” he said.

Prof Silburn said he and his colleagues had built on DBS work done by many others around the world.

“We are now using micro-electrode recording to map individual brain cell activity and learning more about how the brain functions,” he said.

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