Deep Brain Stimulation Cure for Parkinson's Disease?

An Indian American physician has pioneered a treatment for Parkinson's disease that can help control tremors, slowness and involuntary movements in patients.

Rajesh Pahwa's method, known as deep brain stimulation (DBS), has provided one of the best solutions to control the effects of the disease.

"DBS improves the quality of life of the patient. It helps them control tremors, slowness, stiffness and involuntary movements," Mumbai-educated Pahwa told the agency. The patient can thus gain a greater quality of life.

"Ninety per cent of patients, who have undergone it, have shown a good improvement. It is very safe and the risk of complications is less than one per cent."

"But," Pahwa added, "Parkinson's is a progressive disease and DBS does not stop the progression. It only helps the patients in controlling the physical symptoms."

Despite the incipient promise of stem cell research, Pahwa is not too optimistic of a cure for Parkinson's in the near future.

"I don't see anything that is very promising. Stem cells are kind of like neuro transplants - they focus only one part of the brain," he said.

Pahwa was recently made a professor at the Kansas University Medical School. He is director of the Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorder Centre at the university.

"For the nearly two million Americans afflicted with Parkinson's disease, hope lies with outstanding researchers and physicians such as Pahwa," Barbara Atkinson, Executive Vice Chancellor of the Kansas University Medical Centre, said at his investiture as a professor in neurology.

For the DBS procedure, an electrode is implanted in a patient's brain and connected under the skin to a battery device in the chest.

The patient is awake during brain surgery and can even help the surgeon determine the best place to target in the brain.

"Any kind of stimulation does help patients in the long term. Some studies have shown that mental stimulations like certain computer programmes have led to improvement in patients," said Pahwa.

However, there is no study to prove that vitamin deficiency may contribute to Parkinson's or that imbibing caffeine helps prevent it, he said.

Parkinson's disease usually begins in mid-life and causes degeneration of the cells in the substantia nigra, located in the midbrain. The destruction of these cells results from decreased amounts of dopamine - a hormone like substance, which is a neurotransmitter and facilitates critical brain functioning.

"Parkinson's is the second most common neurodegenerative disease," Pahwa said, "and 40 per cent of Parkinson's patients additionally have Alzheimer's (the most common neurodegenerative disease)."

Some studies have suggested that Parkinson's is caused by a combination of genes and toxins, Pahwa said, adding, "Once we know the cause, we are closer to the cure."

Caucasians appear to be more prone to Parkinson's than Asians, he said.

Pahwa completed his MBBS from the Seth GS Medical College, Mumbai, and his internship and residency in neurology from the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.

Pahwa has published over 200 peer-reviewed articles, chapters and abstracts in leading neurology and movement disorder journals and conducted over 50 clinical trials related to Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders. He is also the author and editor of three books on the disease.