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Focused Ultrasound Shows Promise In Parkinson’s Disease Treatment

New focused ultrasound treatment can reverse the outcomes of Parkinson’s disease,  researchers say.

A new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), outlined the treatment can lower the impacts of Parkinson’s-related conditions such as dyskinesia and motor impairment.

Dyskinesia is a motor symptom consistent with Parkinson’s disease (PD) that occurs in patients who use Levodopa, a drug commonly used to treat falling dopamine levels. While the markers of PD are low-frequency and high-amplitude tremors, dyskinesia is characterized by faster and almost dance-like movements, Dr. Sarah O’Shea, neurologist and assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, told My Parkinson’s Team.

Most people experience the motor impairment symptom at the onset of PD when the efficacy of the medication fizzles out. Vibhor Krishna, an associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of North Carlina School of Medicine, said the focused ultrasound treatment is the best course of action for those who experience debilitating Parkinsonian symptoms.

“Focused ultrasound is an exciting new treatment for patients with certain neurological disorders,” said Krishna, reported “The procedure is incisionless, eliminating the risks associated with surgery. Using focused ultrasound, we can target a specific area of the brain and safely ablate the diseased tissue.”

The focused ultrasound treatment has been around since 2016 when it earned the first FDA approval for patients with essential tremors. It recently got fresh FDA approval for treating Parkinsonian symptoms like dyskinesia and motor impairment.

“Almost twice as many patients achieved improved motor function or reduced dyskinesia in the focused ultrasound group than those who underwent a sham procedure,” Krishna said. “In addition, we observed that 75% of patients in the focused ultrasound group maintained their results for up to one year after the treatment.”

As part of the trial, researchers randomly assigned 94 Parkinson’s patients with dyskinesias or motor impairment to either go through the focused ultrasound treatment or a “sham” procedure — 69 people underwent the ultrasound ablation, while 25 took up the sham procedure. In the focused ultrasound group, 45 (69%) patients responded positively to the procedure as opposed to seven (32%) in the other group. 

“Our research aims to optimize focused ultrasound treatment to minimize risks and maximize improvements,” Krishna said. “We observed that clinical outcomes after focused ultrasound ablation can be site-specific. Specifically, we observed two distinct hotspots in the globus pallidus that correlated with improvements in dyskinesia and motor impairment respectively. In the future, we aim to investigate whether these findings can lead to a personalized approach to treating Parkinson’s disease with focused ultrasound.”

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