Clinical Trial May Restore Quality of Life for Parkinson's Patients

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (NEWSPLEX) -- For years, focused ultrasound has been used to treat cancers, but for the first time in the United States, it is being used it in a clinical trial to treat symptoms of Parkinson's Disease.

The most visible sign of the disease is the uncontrollable shaking or tremors, a reality with which Parkinson's patients deal. Currently, there is no cure for the disease, only treatments.

A clinical trial is under way at the University of Virginia Health System that may change the face of treatment options for patients of the disease.

Dr. Neil Kassell is the chairman of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation in Charlottesville. He is also a professor of Neurology at UVa, and he says Parkinson's is a chronic degenerative disease where some brain cells die, causing symptoms like the tremors and slowness of movements. Kassell says current treatments aren't easy.

"It's treated either with drugs, or if the drugs don't work in certain instances, deep brain stimulations," said Kassell. "An incision in the scalp, a hole in the head and electrode put into the brain connected to a pacemaker."

However, thanks in part to a grant from the Michael J. Fox foundation, Kassell says they have been able to conduct research leading to the trial.

Unlike other treatments, focused ultrasound is totally non-invasive. Kassell says all eyes are on the brain right now.

"Where each of the individual beams of ultrasound go into the tissue, it has no effect," said Kassell. "But the point they converge, it heats up and kills the abnormal cells [in the brain]."

He says, if the trial works, he envisions a real change.

"Focused ultrasound will provide an alternative for large numbers of patients," said Kassell. "An alternative to surgery."

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