Adults living with Parkinson’s have a new treatment available to help with motor symptoms: an ultrasound procedure called Exablate Neuro, a non-invasive treatment for moderate to severe motor complications, such as stiffness, tremors and involuntary movements (dyskinesia).
Now available at the University of Maryland Medical Center, the procedure was evaluated through clinical trials led by the University of Maryland School of Medicine to examine the treatment’s safety and efficacy. Exablate uses MRI-guided focused ultrasound that allows medical professionals to remove damaged brain tissue located in the globus pallidus (a region of the brain related to voluntary movement) in a gradual way.
“Focused ultrasound has less ominous side effects for patients since there’s no risk of infection or damage to blood vessels from the electrodes,” Howard Eisenberg, MD, a neurosurgeon and principal investigator in the trial, said in a press release.
The imaging produced from the MRI helps the medical team view the brain using a real-time temperature map. They can then target certain areas by heightening the energy of sound waves to create heat – using up to 1,024 ultrasound waves – and then remove the tissue affected by the disease.
Adults undergoing the treatment are awake during the process, which allows them to provide feedback to clinicians. And unlike deep brain stimulation, which involves an implanted device in the brain, Exablate Neuro requires no incisions or anesthesia, which should drastically reduce infection risk. The treatment is performed in the MRI suite and is usually performed on an outpatient basis.
Due in part to the findings from the University of Maryland School of Medicine trials, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration extended the approval of Exablate Neuro in November 2021 for the treatment of motor symptoms for those living with Parkinson’s. The technology was first approved in 2016 for “essential tremor in patients who do not respond to standard therapies” and since 2018 for adults with tremor-dominant Parkinson’s.
Exablate Neuro has already been available in 38 other medical centers across the country, but only for essential tremor and tremor-dominant Parkinson’s disease in adults who didn’t respond to medications.
“Presently, it can only be used to treat one side of the brain, so it may [be] more appropriate for patients with symptoms predominantly on one side,” Eisenberg added. “However, research into bilateral focused ultrasound is ongoing and shows promising results.”
With an estimated one million Americans affected by Parkinson’s, university researchers are hailing this advancement as “a new era for Parkinson’s treatment.”
“A diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease no longer automatically portends a future of extremely limited physical capabilities,” said Bert O’Malley, MD, president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical Center, in a release. “Thanks to the commitment of researchers … treatment has expanded to include non-invasive options that significantly reduce certain symptoms within minutes and last for years.”