Wednesday, May 20, 1998 Published at 05:58 GMT 06:58 UK
Health: Latest News
'Pacemaker' for Parkinson's disease
The electrodes go deep into the brain
People suffering from Parkinson's disease in the UK can now get a new device - similar to the heart pacemaker - that helps them control their tremors and muscle stiffness.
Parkinson's is a progressive degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. The new treatment works by stimulating the brain with small electrical impulses.
Activa Parkinson's Control Therapy originated in the United States, but has now been given a licence for use in Britain after successful trials lasting two years.
The therapy has been described as the biggest advance in the management of the disease in 30 years.
Quality of life
Professor Adrian Williams, Chairman of the Medical Advisory Panel for The Parkinson's Disease Society (PDS) in the UK, welcomed the new treatment: "This exciting development offers the potential for people with Parkinson's to control many of their symptoms, and to significantly improve their quality of life.
"The PDS looks forward to the evaluation of subthalamic stimulation therapy over the next few years, including studies to assess its cost-effectiveness compared with existing drug therapies and surgical techniques," he said.
The UK trials showed the treatment to be very effective. Patients had greater control over their bodies and became more independent as a result.
Some who had previously found it difficult or impossible to walk and dress themselves saw a significant improvement in their condition. Many were even able to decrease their dosage of medication against the disease.
Sufferer Satch Sandercock says the device made a huge difference to his life: "I couldn't do anything. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't drink a cup of tea. Now I can go to a café or to a restaurant, catch a bus or catch a train. It's amazing."
The trials did pick up some side effects; the most common being slurred speech, abnormal muscle contractions, abnormal involuntary movements and visual disturbances. However, these were shown in tests to disappear or reduce when the therapy was decreased or stopped.
There are currently around one million people suffering symptoms of the disease in Europe alone, with at least 100,000 new cases diagnosed every year.
Although there is no cure for Parkinson's, there are a number of drugs to treat the symptoms.