Clinical trial of world’s smallest deep brain stimulation device hits headlines

A trial of a new miniaturised deep brain stimulation (DBS) device, being carried out at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, aims to make improvements to existing surgery.

The study will trial the new device to see if it can shorten and simplify DBS surgery, which could see it made available to more people with Parkinson's.

What is deep brain stimulation?

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a type of surgery that has become a mainstream treatment for people with Parkinson's, since it first became available in 1995. DBS improves movement symptoms by delivering electrical impulses directly to targeted areas deep within the brain. 

In many cases, it's given people with the condition better control of their motor symptoms including tremor, speed of movements and involuntary movements. However, it doesn’t stop or slow the progression of Parkinson's.

Although many people benefit from the procedure, it isn't suitable for everyone with the condition. There are risks and potential complications associated with the treatment. 

Now, a new study aims to reduce the complications and costs associated with DBS surgery by trialling a new type of device.

In the trial at North Bristol NHS Trust, up to 25 patients will have surgery to implant the new system and will be assessed over a one-year period. The Bristol team have recently shared the story of the first participant to undergo this pioneering surgery.

The world's smallest DBS device

Traditional DBS devices are powered by a pulse generator (a device like a heart pacemaker) that is placed under the skin around the chest or stomach area. This is connected to one or two fine wires that are inserted into specific areas of the brain.

The Picostim™ DBS system, developed by Bioinduction, is the world’s first miniaturised electrical impulse generating pacemaker battery. At about one third of the size of conventional DBS batteries, its small size means it can be implanted directly into the skull, rather than within a pocket under the skin of the chest. 

Being able to place the battery in the skull makes it cosmetically invisible and eliminates the need for extension leads running from the chest, and the tunnelling of these wires under the skin of the neck. 

It is hoped that by using this new system, the procedure to implant a DBS device will be shortened and simplified without reducing the beneficial effects of DBS treatment.

Dr Alan Whone is a Consultant Neurologist at North Bristol NHS Trust. He is leading the trial and said: ''We are delighted with how this first case went in the operating theatre and with how the patient's symptoms have been improved over the last year. We are hopeful that if these findings hold up, we will have a significant technical advance by which to improve Parkinson's care across the world.''

Dr Beckie Port, Head of Research Communications at Parkinson's UK, adds: 
''This new device has the potential to make existing DBS surgery quicker, safer and cheaper. It could make DBS therapy more widely available to a larger number of people with Parkinson's. However, it is important to know that DBS is not a cure and it's not suitable for everyone with the condition.''

At this time the Bristol team are not asking members of the public to come forward to take part.