A new "electric" age is dawning in the treatment of brain disorders. German researchers found that deep-brain electrical stimulation is better than traditional drug therapy for treating patients with advanced Parkinson's disease.
Doctors have been using neurostimulation, which is delivered by a pacemaker-like device, for years. But the new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, marks one of the first times that a group of Parkinson's patients has been randomly assigned to received either stimulation or drug therapy.
Deep brain stimulation represents "a huge progress for the treatment of Parkinson's disease," Guenther Deuschl, who led the study at Christian Albrechts University near Kiel, Germany, said by e-mail. "Our study suggests they have a reasonable possibility to get a 25-per-cent increase in life quality" compared with drug therapy alone. The disease destroys a part of the brain involved in movement and, over time, patients lose their ability to move with ease.
The treatment comes with some risks. One of the 156 patients in the group assigned to get neurostimulation died from bleeding when the electrode was surgically implanted in his brain.
Nonetheless, the treatment is so promising doctors are increasingly using it for a wide variety of disorders, ranging from chronic pain to depression.