Breakthrough Parkinson's treatment stops the shaking

When it comes to Parkinson's disease, deep brain stimulation has been a successful option. But a new technique is changing the game for those with the disease, and it's helping thousands get the treatment they so desperately need.

Fifty-nine-year-old Toni Pais is a hands-on restaurant owner, often prepping for the dinner crowd by himself. But tremors from Parkinson's disease almost forced him to quit.

“It's very dangerous because you are dealing with fire with hot pans, sometimes you try to shake the pan, your brain wants to move, but your muscles don't," he explains.

Medication was losing its affect. Toni couldn't tolerate the traditional surgical method for implantation of deep brain stimulators - which would require him to be awake during surgery.

During DBS, surgeons implant thin electrodes at very specific targets in the brain to deliver electrical pulses. Doctors interact with the patient to ensure the electrodes are in the correct place.

"The problem is, there is a significant population of patients with Parkinson's who are too anxious, or too symptomatic, or both to undergo awake surgery in the frame," explained Dr. Mark Richardson, Director of Epilepsy and Movement Disorders Surgery at UPMC.

Now surgeons have begun performing the procedure on patients who stay under the whole time using customized software and an MRI machine. Surgeons attach an aiming device to the skull, and the surgeon maps the trajectory of the electrode-in real time.

More than one year after surgery, Pais says his tremors are minimal, so are his other symptoms.

"Now if I'm relaxing, sleeping, laying down, contemplating, I'm calm as calm can be.”

Researchers say a preliminary analysis shows there is no difference in side effects or benefits from patients who were asleep during surgery.


REPORT: MB # 3782

BACKGROUND: Parkinson's disease is a condition of the brain affecting approximately six million people. It is most commonly characterized by slowness of movement, stiffness, shaking, and loss of balance. Parkinson's often develops after the age of 50. Although Parkinson's disease is one of the most common nervous system disorders for the elderly, it can affect young people too, usually because a form of the disease runs in their family. Nerve cells use a brain chemical called dopamine to control muscles. When the nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine are destroyed as a result of Parkinson's, the nerve cells in that particular part of the brain will not properly send messages. The result is the loss of muscle control. The damage gets worse over time. (Source:
SIGNS/SYMPTOMS: The first symptoms of Parkinson's disease can be hard to diagnose, especially in older patients, and often start out mild and worsen over time. The most common signs of Parkinson's disease are shaking, called tremors, and jerky, stiff movements. Some of the other possible signs include:
* Constipation
* Depression, anxiety, and memory loss
* Slowed movements, slow blinking, and slowed speech
* Difficulty swallowing and drooling
* Problems with balance and walking (

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Deep brain stimulation is a technique that has been used for years now to treat conditions like Parkinson's, dystonia, and essential tremor. The procedure to put the electrode in place usually takes place with the patient awake, because brain mapping is easier when the patient isn't under anesthesia and so doctors can periodically check with the patient. However, now doctors can use MRI to place the electrodes needed for the neurostimulator. This means the patients can be put under general anesthesia for the surgery. The MRI helps doctors visualize in real time where the electrode needs to be placed. This is important for patients who are nervous, can't tolerate being awake, or too dystonic to be still during a surgery. (Source:

Anita Srikameswaran
Senior Manager, Media Relations, UPMC

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
powered by Disqus
WNDU - Channel 16 54516 State Road 933 South Bend, IN 46637 Front Desk: 574-284-3000 Newsroom: 574-284-3016 Email:
Copyright © 2002-2014 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 260804831 -
Gray Television, Inc.