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Spinal Cord Stimulation Could Help with Parkinson’s Disease

Thursday, July 15, 2010


An estimated 1 to 1.5 million people in the United States have Parkinson’s disease. A recent study from Rhode Island Hospital indicates that high frequency stimulation of the spinal cord may benefit Parkinson's disease patients. 

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that often impairs the sufferer's motor skills, speech, and other functions. The disease is characterized by muscle rigidity, tremor, a slowing of physical movement and a loss of physical movement in extreme cases.

Ming Cheng, MD, is a neurosurgeon at Rhode Island Hospital and the lead author on an abstract called "Outcome of Spinal Cord Stimulation." Cheng says that findings from earlier studies in which spinal cord stimulation (SCS) had improved motor functions of patients, prompting them to test SCS on a single 82-year-old male with Parkinson's disease.

Cheng, who is also an assistant professor of neurosurgery at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, worked with colleagues at Brown to implant the SCS system in the patient. They then tested the effects at multiple frequencies while the patient was off medication.

"Our study shows no changes in pain assessment to control for reduction in pain as the reason for motor improvement," says Cheng, who is also a a physician with the Neurosurgery Foundation, Inc. "What we did find is that low-frequency SCS produced a readily apparent and statistically significant worsening of Parkinson's disease symptoms. These findings and locomotion 'walking time' were reversed at high stimulation frequencies."

This procedure was done again in a second patient and the results were similar. Cheng notes that the results of the study are extremely limited as it was performed in only one patient. However, he believes that further studies are in order to determine the possible benefits of this approach for Parkinson's patients.

Those who are unfamiliar with the disease or have a family member with Parkinson's can read a less clinical account of actor Michael J. Fox's battle with Parkinson's. His book, Lucky Man,  focuses on his experiences with the disease. Fox went on to create The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research to develop a cure for Parkinson's disease.

For support groups and general information, The Rhode Island Chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association serves Parkinson's Disease patients and their caregivers in Rhode Island. (riapda.org)


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