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Focused ultrasound reduced essential tremor in pilot study

by Nancy Ryerson, Staff Writer | August 19, 2013
The ExAblate, used to treat essential tremor.
(Credit: InSightec)
Focused ultrasound may help patients with essential tremor, a movement disorder that affects millions of people each day. Essential tremor patients who were unable to control a spoon when eating, successfully performed an eating simulation after being treated with focused ultrasound, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found.

The study included 15 patients suffering from essential tremor. Researchers used MRI-guided focused ultrasound to target part of the brain through the skull, without surgery, and create a small ablation that ultimately reduced tremor in patients.

"In the basic activities of daily living that we take for granted, patients enjoyed a substantial change when we improved their dominant hand tremor," said Dr. Jeffrey Elias, the lead investigator of the study in a talk at the World Society for Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery meeting.

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All patients experienced "significant improvement" in their dominant hand, though some experienced mild side effects such as tingling in the fingers. One patient experienced a persistent uncomfortable sensation in his index finger that was still reported a year after the treatment.

Elias notes that this study is just the beginning of investigation into the various uses of focused ultrasound. Further trials are planned in eight different centers around the world.

"Demonstrating that focused ultrasound may safely and effectively target tissue deep in the skull is very promising for opening the door to non-invasively treating other neurological disorders beyond essential tremor," said UVA's Dr. Neal Kassell, chairman of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation in a press release. "In addition, by starting to overcome the challenges of accessing and treating the brain, we may advance the field to treat other organs, such as the breast, liver, pancreas and prostate."

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