Medical Moment: Eliminate essential hand tremors with Exablate

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 8:13 PM EST
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Essential tremor is a nervous system disorder, an involuntary shaking or twitching that makes it difficult to shave, button a shirt, or hold a cup of coffee.

For some, medication helps stop the tremors. Others have surgery to implant a device for deep brain stimulation. Now, there’s a new, non-invasive option for those seeking relief.

71-year-old Bob Bosloper has played the organ since he was a teenager.

“It’s just magnificent,” he says. “Especially when I pull out all the stops.”

But as Bob began to age, his hands began to hold him back. Bob had essential tremors in both hands, a genetic condition that grew worse.

“It got very difficult for me to hold my hands on the keys without them shaking,” he says. “And the fear was that they were going to jump.”

Medication made him groggy. And he wasn’t ready for invasive brain surgery.

“Now we have a midway option in between medicine and surgery, the focused ultrasound, where we can non-invasively disrupt those tremor circuits and the tremors are permanently taken care of,” says Hooman Azmi from the Hackensack University Medical Center Neuroscience Institute.

The treatment was done with a system called Exablate. Patients wear a helmet that has thousands of small speakers.

“These speakers emit sound that’s ultrasound,” Azmi says. “It’s above what we can hear, and they have the capability of going through tissues.”

Using MRI guidance, surgeons focus the soundwaves on the precise area of the brain causing the tremors. The patient is awake, so surgeons can assess how the ultrasound is working. Right now, the procedure is only approved for one side. Bob’s right hand stopped shaking immediately after treatment, and he was back in church right after.

“I went back the next Sunday and played the organ, even though I had no hair on my head because my head was shaved,” Bob says. “It’s unbelievable. I can go out with my friends and not be embarrassed to eat a meal.”

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