Medical Moment: A non-invasive brain surgery to treat movement disorders

Published: Aug. 26, 2022 at 5:39 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - For many people living with epilepsy or movement disorders, like Parkinson’s and Tourette’s, brain surgery becomes the only treatment option.

Now, scientists are working on a new, non-invasive way to remove the faulty brain cells triggering those conditions.

42 million Americans struggle with movement disorders. Medications may work for some but not for everyone. Now, scientists at the University of Virginia and Stanford have developed a procedure that can non-invasively remove faulty brain cells.

The procedure is called PING.

“What it does is, we hope, at least, will be the next step in intervention, in those individuals that don’t respond to drugs,” said Kevin Lee, a neuroscientist at UVA Health.

PING uses focused ultrasound waves combined with tiny microbubbles.

“What’s different about PING is we’re going in with a much lighter, a lower intensity treatment,”Dr. Lee explained.

The ultrasound and microbubbles briefly open the protective barrier that normally surrounds the brain. Doctors administer an IV drug that travels to the faulty brain neurons and kills them, leaving healthy cells intact.

“You’d like to knock out the area that’s causing the problems, the real culprit cells, but spare the things passing through that are still functional. PING will do that,” Dr. Lee said.

Brain surgery with no cutting needed.

The Yale Comprehensive Epilepsy Center may have found one in a new generation of neurostimulation devices used for epilepsy.

In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a deep brain stimulation (DBS) device, manufactured by Medtronic, that sends electrical pulses through the brain to reduce the frequency of seizures. (It works by stimulating an important relay station deep in the brain called the thalamus.) And in June 2020, the FDA approved the Percept PC, also from Medtronic. Facilitating more customized therapy, this modified version allows doctors to treat epilepsy and record electrical activity from deep in the brain.