FDA approves scalpel-free Parkinson’s tremor treatment

Charlotte Edwards 16 January 2019 (Last Updated January 16th, 2019 14:44)

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a scalpel-free method for treating tremors in medication-resistant Parkinson's disease patients.

FDA approves scalpel-free Parkinson’s tremor treatment
Neurosurgeon Dr Jeff Elias led clinical trials that demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of focused ultrasound for treating medication-resistant Parkinson’s disease. Credit: University of Virginia Health System.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a scalpel-free method for treating tremors in medication-resistant Parkinson’s disease patients.

The procedure is called focused ultrasound and enables doctors to conduct brain surgery without cutting into a patient’s skull. It was proven to be a safe and effective option for reducing medication-resistant Parkinson’s tremor during clinical trials led by University of Virginia School of Medicine (UVA) neurosurgeon Dr Jeff Elias.

Elias said: “We are very excited about this approval. Now, patients with Parkinson’s disease will have more options if their symptoms become refractory to medication.”

UVA previously led the clinical research that enabled the FDA approval of the technology for treating essential tremor.

The focused ultrasound technology is manufactured by Insightec and works by directing sound waves though the skull and into the brain where it generates a tiny hot spot. When brain tissue is heated like this, doctors can interrupt the malfunctioning brain circuits that cause the uncontrollable shaking experienced by millions of Parkinson’s disease patients.

Magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) can be used alongside the method to allow doctors to monitor the location and intensity of the procedure in real time. This is an important safety measure to be taken before they make permanent changes to the brain.

Now that focused ultrasound has been approved for the treatment of medication-resistant Parkinson’s tremor, Elias will continue to test if the technology has any potential for treating other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers at UVA are also evaluating the scalpel-free surgery’s potential to treat many other conditions, including breast cancer, brain tumours, epilepsy and pain.

At the 2018 annual meeting of the American Society of Breast Surgeons (ASBrS) it was hypothesised that focused ultrasound ablation on patients with stage IV breast cancer could be more effective than current treatments for the condition.