Ultrasound may replace brain surgery to treat hand tremors
Published Monday, March 25, 2013 10:27PM EDT
Canadian researchers say they are successfully treating patients with uncontrollable tremors using a new ultrasound technique that eliminates the need for invasive -- and risky -- brain surgery.
Researchers from the Toronto Western Hospital and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre say early results show MRI-guided, high-intensity ultrasound technology can stop previously uncontrollable hand shaking, a condition known as “essential tremor.”
The treatment, developed in Canada, uses concentrated ultrasound waves -- rather than brain surgery -- to kill tissue that causes the shaking.
The researchers report that the first four Canadian patients who received the treatment saw an 81 per cent improvement in their tremors within three months.
“We think it is a game-changer,” Dr. Michael Schwartz, a neurosurgeon at Sunnybrook, told CTV News. “We have just started to use focused ultrasound, and it’s going to get better.”
The findings are part of a study published in the journal The Lancet Neurology.
Tony Lightfoot’s essential tremor in his right hand was so severe that three months ago, he could not drink from a cup or button his own shirt.
Lightfoot, a 68-year-old engineer from Calgary, underwent the four-hour procedure as part of the study, and that hand is now tremor-free.
“As far as I am concerned, it has been a huge life-changing thing, because just about everything I use is with my right hand,” Lightfoot told CTV. “It has just been excellent. Very good.”
Lightfoot can write “for the first time in ten years,” hold a glass full of water, drive his car and go out for dinner with his wife without being embarrassed.
“I think I can speak for my wife, who says that I am a new man now,” Lightfoot said. “A new man in terms of my whole attitude has gotten better, because when you are really suffering from some physical ailment your whole life is clouded by that problem.”
Lightfoot, Schwartz says, is the “star” patient. “He was very seriously affected, and now he can drink and eat properly.”
The researchers hope the effects will last for several years. However, the non-invasive procedure is easy to repeat and has minimal side effects. It also doesn’t carry the risks associated with brain surgery, such as infection and hemorrhage.
The researchers plan further study, and Schwartz said he expects “that this will become the standard treatment.”
They also hope to use focused ultrasound to treat other conditions, such as Parkinson’s, epilepsy, cancerous tumours, and even to dissolve blood clots.
With a report from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip