New Treatment for Parkinsons Disease Approved

January 22, 2002

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new treatment for Parkinson''s disease - a "pacemaker" for the brain that can improve symptoms such as tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity. Known as the deep brain stimulator (DBS), the pacemaker uses mild electrical stimulation to block the brain signals that cause movement symptoms. The device is implanted under the collarbone and is connected to electrodes that are placed in the brain. "This is a significant advance in the treatment of Parkinson''s disease," said Stephen Tatter, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, who has implanted more than 100 of the devices. "It is intended primarily for patients who no longer get symptom relief from medications, or who cannot tolerate the side effects of medications."

Researchers have found that the device can significantly improve movement symptoms. A study of 138 people with Parkinson''s disease showed that with the device, the percentage of time during the day that patients had good mobility - with no involuntary movements - increased from 27 percent to 74 percent. The results were reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"As we''ve become more experienced positioning the device, we''re able to benefit the majority of movement symptoms that people with Parkinson''s have," said Tatter, who is among the top 20 most experienced surgeons in the country at implanting the device.

The device was approved in 1997 for treating tremor. The newest approval allows it use for other movement symptoms - such as rigidity, slowness of movement and freezing up - and on both sides of the brain.

Each year in the United States, about 50,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson''s disease. Although there are numerous drugs to treat the symptoms, they eventually are unable to relieve the symptoms for many patients, while other patients cannot tolerate the side effects. Surgery is also available to treat movement symptoms, but the deep brain stimulator is considered superior because it does not permanently destroy brain tissue. The DBS is reversible and can be re-programmed if side effects develop.

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