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Relief for those with Parkinson's

September 04, 2006|From Times wire reports

Electrical impulses delivered to two areas of the brain that control movement alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson's disease more effectively than drugs alone, according to a study in the Aug. 31 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

About 1 million people in the United States suffer from Parkinson's, a movement disorder that makes limbs rigid and can produce body tremors. Drugs help keep the symptoms at bay, but not completely and not always over the long term.

Earlier studies showed that using implanted electrodes to apply high-frequency electrical stimulation to the brain can improve symptoms.

But questions have lingered over whether the technique works better than drugs, or if the surgery involved in implanting the electrodes is worth the risk.

In the new report, researchers studied 156 volunteers from 10 medical centers in Germany and Austria.

After six months of treatment, patients who received electrical stimulation and drug therapy had a 25% improvement in symptoms. The 78 who received drug treatment alone had no improvement.

"The greatest improvement occurred in activities of daily living," the researchers wrote. They found that the average amount of time that Parkinson's rendered patients immobile each day declined from 6.2 hours without brain stimulation to 2 hours with it.

Twenty-one of the study's 38 authors listed financial ties to Medtronic Inc., whose Activa brand of deep brain stimulation therapy was tested in the study.

Three patients who received the electrical stimulation died -- one from surgery, one from suicide and one from pneumonia.

There was one death in the medication-only group. The cause was a traffic accident in which the patient was driving during a psychotic episode.

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