New method could lead to deep brain stimulation without surgery

Scientists have developed a new technique that shows promise as a non-invasive approach to deep brain stimulation.

The research is published in the scientific journal Cell.

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is the main type of surgery used to treat the physical symptoms of Parkinson's. It involves implanting very fine wires, with electrodes at their tips, into the brain.

It can work well to control the symptoms of Parkinson's, but it won't stop the condition from progressing and it isn't a cure. Although many people benefit from deep brain stimulation, it isn't a suitable treatment for everyone with the condition.

How the new method works

A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including a neuroengineer at Imperial College London, has developed a new method that involves placing electrodes on the surface of the scalp, rather than inside the brain.

The development of less invasive techniques like this one could mean that more people with Parkinson's could benefit from this type of therapy.

The method is called Temporal Interference (TI) stimulation.

The team has tested this technique in mice and shown that they can very precisely activate brain cells in the hippocampus - a region deep in the brain that is central to memory and cognition.

Potential for Parkinson's

Claire Bale, Head of Research Communications at Parkinson's UK, comments:

"Current treatments are severely limited for the 127,000* people living with Parkinson's in the UK, so any strides to broaden options to more people are welcome.

"While the main surgical approach – deep brain stimulation – can be extremely effective, it is suitable for only a small proportion of people with the condition, partly because of its invasive nature.

"At this stage, the new technique has shown promise in mice in the lab, so there is much further research needed to develop it to the stage where it is ready to be tested in people."

*This article mentions statistics which have since been updated. 2018 data shows that the number of people diagnosed with Parkinson's in the UK is around 145,000.