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New Parkinson's Treatment

Surgeons at UPMC offering new brain procedure

PITTSBURGH - Surgeons in Pittsburgh are offering a new procedure for Parkinson's disease.

Deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease has been a successful treatment option for more than a decade, but only for some patients. Now a new technique is changing the game and helping thousands of more people get the treatment they so desperately need. 

Toni Pais is 59 years old. He’s a hands-on restaurant owner who is often prepping for the dinner crowd by himself. However, tremors from Parkinson’s disease almost forced him to quit. 

“It’s very dangerous because you are dealing with fire with hot pans, sometimes you try to shake the pan, your brain wants to move, but your muscles don’t,” Toni said.

Medication was losing its affect. Toni couldn’t tolerate the traditional surgical method for implantation of deep brain stimulators, which would require him to be awake during surgery.

During DBS, surgeons implant thin electrodes at specific targets in the brain to deliver electrical pulses. Doctors interact with the patient to ensure the electrodes are in the correct place.

“The problem is, there is a significant population of patients with Parkinson’s who are too anxious, or too symptomatic, or both to undergo awake surgery in the frame,” according to Mark Richardson, MD, PhD, Director of Epilepsy and Movement Disorders Surgery at UPMC.

Now surgeons have begun performing the procedure on patients who stay “under” the whole time using customized software and an MRI machine. Surgeons attach an aiming device to the skull and the surgeon maps the trajectory of the electrode in real time.

More than one year after surgery, Pais says his tremors are minimal, so are his other symptoms. “Now if I’m relaxing, sleeping, lying down, [or] contemplating, I’m calm as calm can be,” Pais explained.

UPMC researchers say a preliminary analysis of patient outcomes shows there is no difference in side effects or benefits for patients who undergo the procedure asleep.


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