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Deep brain stimulation against Parkinson‘s disease

Since 1998, deep brain stimulation has been used to treat the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. This is a slowly progressive neurodegenerative disease where the dopamine-producing neurons in the midbrain die. This leads to muscle tremors, muscle stiffness and the slowing down of mental processes. In the treatment with deep brain stimulation, an electrode stimulates an, due to the lack of dopamine, overactive area in the basal ganglia of the brain with low current and thus inhibit over-activity. This results in a reduction of muscle tremors in Parkinson's patients.

In this video, the English Parkinson’s patient Mike Robbins, who uses an implant for deep brain stimulation, shows the effectiveness of this method is in suppressing muscle tremors. As soon as he switches the implant off, his hand starts to tremble vigorously, whereas it was hardly noticeable before.

According to the German Parkinson Association, some 250,000 people in Germany suffer from the disease. Worldwide, over 80,000 people use deep brain stimulation; about two-thirds use it because of Parkinson's disease. Colloquially, the implant is also referred to as a "brain pacemaker". Deep brain stimulation is also used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, severe depression and anxiety. In addition, clinical trials are conducted in other areas such as the treatment of Tourette syndrome and Alzheimer's disease. Especially in the introduction of the method for new therapeutic approaches, previous tests with non-human primates to rule out any harm to patients and the occurrence of unforeseen side effects are indispensable.

Because of neuroscientific research on the structure and functioning of the brain of non-human primates, this method of treatment can help human beings without damaging consequences through the implantation in the brain since the exact target area for the deep brain stimulation was identified during research on monkeys. The electrode technology and methods of implantation are also based on findings from research with monkeys. According to the Freiburg University Clinic that regularly performs such operations, only two percent of all complications stem from the surgery itself.