Doctors at OHSU perform groundbreaking deep brain stimulation surgery to ease tremors

Brain surgeons at OHSU use sophisticated imaging devices, Bluetooth technology and an atlas of the brain to implant that delivers deep brain stimulation to halt or control movement disorders. (OHSU)

Doctors at OHSU have been using deep brain stimulation to control the erratic movements caused by Parkinson’s disease and essential tremors for at least two decades. But for the first time in the Pacific Northwest doctors earlier this month implanted a deep brain device that can stimulate the brain in all directions.

For people with movement disorders, something as simple as drinking a glass of water or walking can become impossible. But a new procedure can control those movements with a precision unheard of before.

“In conventional systems a wire with a metal ring around it delivers electricity,” said Dr. Ahmed Raslan, a neurosurgeon who performed the procedure earlier this month on a 68-year-old patient at the VA Hospital, where he also practices. “The new technology delivers the deep brain stimulation in directions. So you can steer stimulation forward, backward to the right, backward to the left."

This allows the patient or the clinician to pinpoint locations that control a variety of symptoms classified under the umbrella of movement disorders using powerful imaging devices, Bluetooth technology and an iPod.

Using CT scans and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), doctors build a map of the brain. A thin wire with the device at one end is pushed into the deepest recesses of the brain. The wire is attached to a pacemaker device in the chest.

“Once the electrode is where it's supposed to then we connect those electrodes to the battery system,” Raslan said.

Patients themselves can control the device implanted deep in the brain to control the jerky movements of these disorders. Just putting the wire in will stop the activity, but then the activity will resume later. You have to turn the electricity to control the function, he said.

“It allows patients to walk better, talk better, move freely and have less of a fluctuation of symptoms,” he said.

Dr. Raslan said the treatment has already been used to control pain in Europe, and researchers are looking at way to use deep brain stimulation to control Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, epilepsy and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The new device, manufactured by Saint Jude Medical Inc., eliminates side effects such as numbness or other unwanted movements.

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