Heat treatment helps to relieve Parkinson’s symptoms

Warming up areas of the brain to destroy faulty cells in Parkinson’s patients can help to relieve symptoms, a new study has found. Scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the US have discovered the treatment is effective in 70 per cent of cases.

Common symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as tremors or feeling unsteady, can be eased using the procedure, which is known as focused ultrasound. It involves placing a helmet on the patient’s head, which emits high-frequency energy to the areas doctors identify via an MRI scanner.

Already available on the NHS to those suffering from a movement condition called essential tremor, focused ultrasound could easily be rolled out to those with Parkinson’s. During the research, three-quarters of those who received the treatment saw a reduction in tremors and mobility issues.

Parkinson’s affects some 145,000 people in the UK and there’s currently no cure. It’s the result of the cells responsible for creating dopamine dying. The chemical plays a key role in movement and without it, signals can’t be passed between these crucial brain cells.

Up until now, treating the symptoms of Parkinson’s has relied on a drug called levodopa, which boosts levels of dopamine in the brain, but comes with side effects. Alternatively, a surgical procedure can be carried out to fit a device in the chest that’s connected to small wires to provide brain stimulation to certain areas of the organ.

Focused ultrasound, on the other hand, is non-invasive and allows patients to go home the same day. It uses ultrasound waves 40,000 times stronger than those used in regular scans, which heat the faulty signals until they’re destroyed.

Dr Becky Jones, research communications officer at Parkinson’s UK, said: "These latest results are encouraging, and offer more hope that focused ultrasound could be a potential treatment for movement symptoms associated with Parkinson’s in the long term.

"Focused ultrasound, unlike deep brain stimulation, has the benefit of not requiring invasive surgery, which can lead to infection. It also means that people who receive the therapy can usually return home on the same day.

"However, this study shows that we still need more understanding of the side effects and why focused ultrasound might work for some people and not others. This will help make sure that the treatment is only given to people who will benefit from it, and potentially reduce the risk of unwanted side effects.

“We will need larger trials and more research before this could be available for people with Parkinson’s on the NHS."

Photo credit: Pixabay/Michal Jarmoluk

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