Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a specific type of neurological disorder that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. It is generally progressive, and usually begins to present itself in middle age. Typical symptoms are neurological in nature and include slowness, tremors, rigidity, and postural instability. Other symptoms of PD include depression and constipation. The disease happens when specific neurons in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter Dopamine begin to lose function. Most current treatments aim to replete this chemical. For some PD patients, an effective treatment for PD is a surgery known as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS).
DBS utilizes electrodes implanted into certain subcortical gray matter regions of the brain known as the basal ganglia, which regulate movement. DBS can lead to a reduction in motor symptoms that are common in PD. However, like many treatments, DBS can have side effects and currently requires continuous stimulation of relevant brain regions. Indeed, once stimulation is turned off, PD symptoms return almost immediately.
Based on a 2021 publication in Science, investigators from Carnegie Melon University revealed that targeting specific cell populations of neurons in the basal ganglia in short bursts of DBS in mouse models can lead to prolonged effects of DBS. Although only observed in animal models at this point, plans are underway for investigators at Allegheny Health Network to use this cutting-edge research to study safety in humans over 12 months. Investigators are hopeful that this technique can be used in humans to extend battery life, produce longer-lasting therapeutic effects that do not disappear immediately after the device is powered off, and reduce side effects. Although PD is a serious illness, it can be managed with appropriate treatment and investigators are working tirelessly to develop new treatments, as well as the enhance existing treatment methods.