New Treatment for Slowness & Stiffness in Parkinson’s Disease

In 2018, Focused Ultrasound was approved to treat tremors in people with PD.  Now, the FDA has approved expanding the indications of Focused Ultrasound (FUS) for Parkinson’s disease (PD) to also include treatment of bradykinesia (slowness) rigidity (stiffness), and dyskinesias. 

Individual ultrasound waves do not contain enough energy to do any damage as they pass through a patient’s skull and brain tissue. But with FUS, multiple waves are all focused on a particular spot so that a lesion is intentionally formed, thus disrupting the circuitry that’s causing the issue(s). During the FUS procedure, MRI technology is used to precisely visualize the brain areas of interest. Previously, a deep-brain structure called the thalamus was targeted that was able to treat the tremor of PD.   Now, by targeting of a deep-brain structure called the globus pallidus interna FUS can treat an expanded array of PD symptoms.

It’s important to note that FUS will not slow the progression of PD, but it can help manage the symptoms of the disease and improve quality of life. In this way, it is similar to deep brain stimulation (DBS), a surgery in which a wire is inserted into deep-brain structures to manipulate the abnormal PD circuitry.  Prior to the advent of DBS, lesioning surgery of deep-brain structures was used to treat the symptoms of PD. Today, FUS can perform approximately the same role as lesioning surgery but in a much less invasive way.

It’s exciting to now have an additional treatment option available for people dealing with tremors, bradykinesia, dyskinesias, and rigidity from their PD. It is important to note that FUS is currently only performed on one side of the brain to minimize potential side effects. You can read more about the pros and cons of FUS and DBS in this A Closer Look blog post.

The device used to deliver this FUS treatment is called Exablate Neuro and is a product of the company InSightec.