A groundbreaking treatment for essential tremor
Patients who suffer with uncontrollable tremors can now be treated at St Mary’s Hospital using a revolutionary technique called MR guided focused ultrasound.
Imagine not being able to hold a drink without your hand shaking. Or finding it difficult to hold a pen or use your smart phone. People living with essential tremor have to face this every day, with even the simplest tasks becoming almost impossible.
Essential tremor is a shake of a part of the body that cannot be controlled, caused by faulty neural circuits within the base of the brain. There are many different causes of severe tremor and it can affect the hands, head or body. Over 250,000 people suffer with essential tremor in Britain.
Until now, common treatments have included drug therapies, surgery and deep brain stimulation.
However, clinical researchers at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust have recently pioneered the use of a technique that allows magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS) to be used in the brain to treat this condition.
The technique is being applied by consultant radiologist Prof Wladyslaw Gedroyc, consultant neurologist Peter Bain and consultant neurosurgeon Dipanker Nandi.
Trials taking place at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust have shown outstanding results, with patients being essentially cured of their tremor after just one round of treatment.
At the current time, the treatment is being considered for funding on the NHS by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) and NHS England. However, the service can already be offered to private patients through Imperial Private Healthcare.
MRgFUS technology uses magnetic resonance imaging to guide high powered, focused ultrasound to destroy tissue which causes mistimed electrical signals to be sent to muscles. At that point, molecules are vibrated extremely quickly, which creates intense local heat which destroys the tissue. MRgFUS allows clinicians to target a very specific focal point – with very little heating produced in front of and behind that point, so only the targeted tissue is affected.
“This is a game changer for patients with these movement disorders because we can cure them with a treatment which is completely non-invasive and we don’t have to give unpleasant drugs,” said Professor Gedroyc.
Safe and effective
The procedure is safe and effective, with significantly fewer risks of stroke or infection. The treatment takes around five hours and the patient remains awake throughout. It is performed within the imaging department rather than in an operating theatre and there are no invasive surgical procedures required.
As well as being effective for tremor patients, the treatment has enormous potential to help patients with other neurological disorders. The team are already looking into how it could treat Parkinson’s disease and tremor associated with multiple sclerosis, which could make a real difference to more patients in the future.
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