An essential improvement

By John Pastor • Published: July 15th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s not complicated. Brain surgery without drills, scalpels or radiation is better.

Now, a non-invasive option may be near for patients who need brain operations for a problem called essential tremor.

During a small clinical trial that has produced hopeful results, neurosurgeons used sound waves instead of saw blades to perform brain surgery.

The procedure was attempted on 15 patients who had hand tremors that could not be controlled by traditional medicine.

After surgeons used ultrasound to destroy small amounts of brain tissue in an area of the brain that helps manage movement, the volunteers experienced a two-thirds reduction in shaking symptoms. Doctors said all 15 patients improved.

The sonic surgery was guided by magnetic resonance imaging, which helped doctors concentrate powerful sound waves in the precise spot to disrupt the brain circuit responsible for the unwanted shaking.

Because it causes shakiness, essential tremor is often confused with Parkinson’s disease, but it is far more common. The condition affects about 10 million Americans, according to the International Essential Tremor Foundation.

The disease often runs in families. Patients generally experience shaking in their hands, arms, legs and head during purposeful movements, often while performing tasks such as eating, drinking or writing.

As with Parkinson’s disease, the tremor becomes more pronounced during emotional stress.

The next step in determining whether focused ultrasound is a viable treatment for essential tremor patients will soon begin during an international, multisite trial led by the University of Virginia. Seventy-two patients will be treated.

If successful, it will be a step toward a non-invasive neurological treatment, no drilling or cutting required.

And you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to know scalpel-free is better.