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Deep-brain ultrasound therapy used to treat tremor

Andrew Blith and Ann Donovan in a brain imaging centre

A research team at Imperial College are testing the use of high-intensity, focused ultrasound waves for the first time in the UK to treat tremor.

The current study is testing the therapy in people with a condition called 'essential tremor', but the team hope to be able to start trials of ultrasound therapy in people with Parkinson's soon.

What is focused ultrasound treatment?

The development of focused ultrasound techniques offers a new and promising tool for treating tremor.

Focused ultrasound is an innovative approach that uses crossing beams of ultrasound to precisely target particular tissues in the body.

Each individual ultrasound beam passes through tissue harmlessly, but where multiple beams meet the energy becomes intense.

The therapy works by applying this focused ultrasound with extreme precision to the part of the brain that produces the unwanted signals that cause tremor.

Could this treatment be used for Parkinson's?

Surgical treatments that work in a similar way to focused ultrasound – by targeting particular cells - are already available for Parkinson's.

This therapy could provide similar benefits to deep brain stimulation but without the need for invasive brain surgery.

These treatments can help to control certain movement symptoms, such as tremor or involuntary movements (dyskinesia), but require quite invasive surgery.

The advantage of focused ultrasound is that there is no need to make a cut or insert anything into the brain.

A new tool to manage tremor?

Claire Bale, Head of Research Communications and Engagement, comments:

"Tremor is one of the main symptoms of Parkinson's, a condition which affects around 127,000 people in the UK.

"Current Parkinson's drugs can help to manage tremor and a surgical approach called deep brain stimulation can also be effective.

"However, these treatments do not work for everybody and there is an urgent need to improve the range of therapeutic options available to help people manage this debilitating symptom.

"The development of focused ultrasound techniques offers a new and promising tool for treating tremor.

"It is particularly attractive because this therapy could provide similar benefits to deep brain stimulation but without the need for invasive brain surgery."

Read more about the study on BBC News.

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