Study finds focused ultrasound can reduce Parkinson's tremor

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | November 02, 2017
Alzheimers/Neurology Ultrasound
Dr. Jeff Elias has research underway
to find additional applications
In a new study published in JAMA Neurology, focused ultrasound showed promise for reducing tremor caused by Parkinson’s disease.

“For a subset of Parkinson's patients afflicted with primarily tremor that is medication resistant, this could be a very good option, but it would require FDA approval like essential tremor,” Dr. Jeff Elias, lead researcher and professor of neurological surgery at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, told HCB News.

In July 2016, InSightec’s Exablate Neuro focused ultrasound system was FDA-cleared to treat essential tremor for patients who have not responded to medication. Focused ultrasound technology is also approved to treat prostate cancer and uterine fibroids.

The industry is on a quest to find new applications for focused ultrasound. Another team at UVA recently opened a trial investigating the potential use of focused ultrasound in combination with immunotherapy for breast cancer.

For the Parkinson’s tremor study, 27 patients with the condition were recruited by a team of researchers at UVA and the Swedish Neuroscience Institute in Seattle. Twenty were randomly assigned focused ultrasound treatment and the rest received a fake procedure to account for potential placebo effects.

Patients from both groups had tremor that didn’t respond to medical treatment and all continued to take their existing Parkinson’s medication. After the study, patients in the control group were offered the opportunity to undergo the real procedure.

The team found that those who received the focused ultrasound procedure experienced a 62 percent median improvement in their hand tremor three months later. Those in the control group also improved, but to a lesser degree, which suggests some placebo effect.

The researchers cautioned that a large, multicenter study is needed in order to confirm the effectiveness of focused ultrasound treatment for Parkinson’s tremor. But even if future research confirms this, it’s unlikely that it will become the standard for treating the condition, because tremor is associated with other disabling symptoms like bradykinesia, rigidity, and gait issues, said Elias.

UVA also recently received FDA approval for a pilot study investigating the use of focused ultrasound to treat trigeminal neuropathic pain and they currently have a trial open to treat seizures/epilepsy caused by hamartomas.

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