Parkinson's tremor is being controlled with non-invasive technology at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital
Albert ‘Albie’ Bunnell of Virginia Beach has lived with a tremor in his right hand since before his Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis in 2017. Rapid, involuntary shaking has disrupted his personal and professional lives.
“I can’t go to sleep or stay asleep because of the tremors,” he says. “I work in IT, and I need to hold my right hand down with my left to use a mouse and it’s hard to type. It’s a daily source of frustration.”
Bunnell has found relief at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where neurosurgeon Shannon Clark, MD, is halting tremors caused by Parkinson’s disease using MRI guided focused ultrasound with Exablate Neuro technology from Insightec. The procedure is incisionless, non-invasive, and takes only 2 hours with an immediate reduction in tremors greater than 80%.
“This device uses 1024 sources of focused ultrasound embedded in a specialized helmet installed in MRI suite. Ultrasound waves are converged targeting one small focal point in the brain to raise the temperature and destroy the dysfunctional brain cells causing Albie’s tremor,” Dr. Clark says. “It’s called sonication. It uses heat generated by ultrasound instead of physical intervention in the brain.”
The non-invasive procedure requires no anesthesia and patients go home after treatment. For most, tremor is gone or greatly improved. For patients with Parkinson’s disease the Insightec technology is a game changer, as Albie Bunnell discovered.
“Just incredible,” he remarked after coming out of the MRI suite and holding his hand in front of him, motionless. He was able to trace a concentric circle with a steady hand and draw a straight line across a page for the first time in years.
“I was hoping it would take care of just my hand tremor,” he said, “but it seems to have improved the tremors in my face and my right foot as well. All those seem to be gone.” Bunnell was able to walk away from the treatment table with a steady gait and told Dr. Clark his enunciation had improved and his voice was stronger.
“I’ll be a lot more productive at work, since I won’t have use both hands on a mouse,” he predicts. Bunnell has a two-millimeter void in his brain where the cells that caused his tremors are now gone.
“This works for both tremor-predominant Parkinson’s and essential tremor,” Dr. Clark says. “Patients are leaving the procedure seeing an immediate and significant improvement in the severity of their tremor and quality of life,” she concludes. “It’s great to be able to offer this kind of hope to patients with tremor.”
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By: Dale Gauding