UMN team is first to implant new Parkinson’s treatment

The doctor’s research group is looking to get a better grasp on the changes associated with Parkinson’s.

Ella Johnson

Newly approved brain implants piloted by University of Minnesota neurosurgeons could help moderate changes in movement due to Parkinson’s disease.

In surgeries completed December and January, University doctors successfully implanted wires developed by Boston Scientific in a patient’s brain. Now, the University neurologist associated with the surgeries is working to understand why the current running through the wires calms the tremors associated with Parkinson’s.

While doctors have used deep brain stimulation since its introduction to the U.S. in the 1990s, there weren’t any substantial advances in the field until another medical device company, Abbott, recently released a new technology, said Jerrold Vitek, the neurologist involved in the surgery and chair of the University’s Department of Neurology.

The initial technology designed by Medtronic was a 1.27-mm wire with four concentric metal bands that carry an electrical current. The device is implanted deep in the brain. Though tiny, the sphere created by the current in the device could reach undesired areas of the brain, causing side effects, Vitek said. 

Boston Scientific’s new Vercise technology uses eight bands with independent current sources instead of four, he said, which means doctors can better direct the bands’ stimulation of the brain and avoid side effects. 

Vitek is working to better understand how deep brain stimulation works. Researchers have proven its success, but the reason it works isn’t fully understood. As part of this process, Vitek’s research group is looking to get a better grasp on the changes associated with Parkinson’s and deep brain stimulations’ effects on them.

“I’ve been a lot of places: Emory, Cleveland Clinic, Hopkins and here. I think the group we have pulled together here is better than any group I’ve been associated with,” he said.

The new wire is also sturdier than others, making it easier to insert, said Michael Park, an assistant professor in the Department of Neurosurgery who performed the first surgery.

More patients are in line for implants — but whether they get Boston Scientific’s lead or another from Abbott, which uses a split lead to better direct currents, will be evaluated on a case by case basis, Vitek said. This summer, Boston Scientific is set to release a technology combining the independent current sources of Vercise with a split lead, he said.

“The good thing about this is … now we have three companies competing and probably more will get into the mix eventually … which means new technology will come out, which it did not before for a few decades or so,” Vitek said.