Magazine article Insight on the News

New Device Is Helping Sufferers of Parkinson's Lead Normal Lives

Magazine article Insight on the News

New Device Is Helping Sufferers of Parkinson's Lead Normal Lives

Article excerpt

The more than 500,000 victims of Parkinson's disease in the United States may be facing a brighter and more manageable future if a medical device recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, is everything its commercial marketers claim it is.

After four years of testing and more than one year of FDA consideration, Minneapolis-based Medtronic Inc. has begun marketing the Activa [TM] Tremor Control Therapy. The therapy consists of a device that stimulates the brains of sufferers of both Parkinson's disease and essential tremor, a similar affliction. In most cases, says Medtronic, the therapy stops the uncontrollable shaking movement associated with the diseases.

"This is certainly not a cure for Parkinson's disease," notes William Koller of the Kansas University Medical Center, one of the researchers who tested the system for Medtronic. There is no evidence that the Activa system slows or alters the disease's progress in any way; rather, the device suppresses tremors, restoring the patient's ability to function more normally.

But the therapy would represent a marked improvement over existing treatments, including a procedure known as a pallidotomy. (During a pallidotomy, doctors destroy the pallidus globus, the part of the brain that triggers the tremors.) The drug Levodopa restores the brain chemical dopamine -- the lack of which lies at the root of the affliction -- but this treatment has had limited success.

Pallidal brain stimulation -- a forerunner of the Activa system -- has been in use for some 30 years, though it originally was a preparatory tool for destructive surgery. By stimulating parts of the brain and watching for the cessation of tremors, doctors were able to determine which brain cells were working improperly.

Rather than destroy the pallidus globus, however, doctors using the Activa system thread a thin electrode into the brain. A pulse generator, similar to an advanced cardiac pacemaker, is implanted near the collarbone. The generator sends signals to the electrode that stimulate the pallidus globus and end the tremors.

The Activa implant was developed by Alim Benabid, a neurosurgeon in France who published the results of his research in 1987. …

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