More than 500 Parkinson’s patients in Portugal are treated with an electrical stimulation therapy of the brain, which is evolving to become more accurate, allowing to reduce the tremors, according to experts gathered in Lisbon today.
António Gonçalves Ferreira, a neurosurgeon at Santa Maria Hospital, told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting that “the success rate is variable, but it is above 60 per cent” in cases of people suffering from degenerative brain disease.
Circumstances such as the surgical strike of nurses and “lack of anesthesiologists” mean that since last year the electrodes in the brain are not required to apply the therapy.
Patients receive the electrodes through planned surgeries – “usually three a week” – and the fact that they are not urgent surgeries causes them to be sent to the background.
In addition to this, they are very time-consuming surgeries that require a whole day, so that it does not have the emergency character of other surgeries, such as tumours, haemorrhages or trauma.
In Santa Maria (Lisbon) and São João (Porto), there are “30 to 40 new cases per year” in which the “very effective and valid” therapy that compensates for brain mechanisms that are broken is applied through the National Health Service.
“Ten years ago, it was only used in cases where the possibilities of dealing with medicines had run out, but today it is being used more and more before that,” he said.
German neurologist Jens Wolkmann said it was about using “very small electrical currents” to stimulate and influence neurons in areas measured in cubic millimetres.
The therapy, which is about 30 years old, in some cases allows people who already had tremors or involuntary contractions associated with dystonia to return to work.
When deep brain stimulation is applied to them, patients are operated to be fitted with an electrode with a diameter of 1.2 millimetres in the brain and a connection through which they receive the stimuli from a remote control.
The new path of the technology used is to use electrodes that can better direct the electrical impulse to diseased brain zones without impacting others that are not affected.
“It is easy to cause adverse effects,” acknowledged the German clinician, adding that it is possible to measure movement improvements but can also be used in cases of psychiatric disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or Tourette’s syndrome.
Experts point out that deep brain stimulation does not attack the causes of degenerative diseases, but relieves symptoms.