Deep brain stimulation (DBS) may have huge potential in treating neurologic movement disorders. The therapy has already made tremendous advances in how physician researchers at the University of Minnesota treat Parkinson’s patients. And now researchers are applying DBS to other conditions such as dystonia.
But how does the therapy work?
DBS uses a surgically implanted medical device. It delivers electrical impulses targeted to the specific areas of the brain that control movement and muscle function.
The battery-operated programmable generator – which resembles a pacemaker – is implanted under the skin of the patient’s chest. It connects to thin, soft, flexible wires called extension cables. These cables are placed completely under the skin and run up to the patient’s head, where they are connected to electrodes placed in the brain.
Electricity runs from the generator through the extension cables to metal contacts at the end of the electrodes, which are implanted deep within the brain.
As you can imagine, setting the electrodes precisely on target in the brain is a delicate process.
In place of imaging, doctors have a unique way of locating the right spot for brain stimulation. They actually listen to the brain.
Special recording equipment allows the physician to hear the distinct noises specific brain cells produce as they communicate with one another.
“It’s like traveling through Europe without a roadmap,” explained Dr. Aviva Abosch, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery and head of the DBS Program at the University of Minnesota Medical Center-Fairview. “You may not know which country you’re in, but if you stop and ask for directions, judging by which language the people speak, you can make reasonable assumptions about where you are.”
What’s Ahead for Deep Brain Stimulation?
Researchers at the University are working to expand DBS research and build the DBS clinical program.
Among many DBS-related research projects, they are trying to figure out exactly how and why the electrical impulses of DBS are effective. This is the next step toward improving the therapy for future patients. In addition, a wide variety of conditions exist that DBS may potentially successfully treat. For that reason, researchers are now looking at depression, addiction and other neurological disorders.
“We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress, but we believe there are additional applications that patients can benefit from,” said University of Minnesota Physician Dr. Jerrold Vitek, Professor and Chair of the medical school’s Neurology Department.