Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a neurosurgery where an electrode (or electrodes) is implanted within the deep portions of the brain with the hope of changing an abnormally functioning brain. DBS is used to treat Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor, multiple sclerosis, and even some intractable depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is an exciting area of research and clinical work. Here is a video of a neurosurgeon and a neurologist talking about their work with DBS. It almost seems like magic. Like magic, it can be dangerous without proper controls. It does wonders for many people though.
The National Parkinson’s Foundation produced a series of brief videos providing overviews of Parkinson’s disease related topics by prominent clinicians and researchers in the field of Parkinson’s disease. In one video, we are provided with an overview of the questions of whether or not we can cure Parkinson’s disease and how do we treat Parkinson’s disease.
The short answer is: no, we cannot right now cure Parkinson’s disease. We have hopes that stem cell therapies will work but there are a number of issues related to stem cells that make them potentially problematic (e.g., how do we make sure they don’t turn into cancers).
We can, however, treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease with drug, physical, and cognitive therapies. L-dopa is effective at reducing tremors in most people and well as increasing rate and speed of movement. In some cases, deep brain stimulation is warranted. It has shown to be quite effective for many people. But for now we cannot cure Parkinson’s disease.
On Tuesday, December 2, 2008, Henry M., the most famous patient in modern neuroscience research and literature, passed away. He was 82. In 1953, H.M. had an experimental brain operation to try to stop his frequent seizures; his medial temporal lobes were resected bilaterally, with significant portions of his amygdalas and hippocampi in both cerebral hemispheres removed (parts of the brain are still resected in intractable epilepsy cases, however neurosurgeons do not perform that exact surgery any more because of the negative effects). His seizures stopped but immediately after the operation he had a severe anterograde amnesia. This means that from when he received the operation at age 27, he was unable to establish new memories for world events and for general information.
His amnesia became the focus of much scientific study from after his operation until the present. No one patient has been studied more in the 20th and 21st centuries than H.M. His memory impairment was also interesting because his overall intellectual abilities were still intact as was his personality. Neuropsychologists and neuroscientists will forever be grateful for the things they learned from H.M.
I’m quite fascinated by human anatomy, especially neuroanatomy. The human body is amazing; it’s something of a miracle that it develops and works as well and as often as it does. The brain is very complex with up to 100 million neurons (that’s also an estimate of the number of stars in our galaxy) and 100 trillion synapses (connections between neurons)! 100 trillion is an estimate of how many individual cells the entire human body has. We have as many synapses as cells in the entire body. The brain is complex and beautiful. It has symmetry but individuality.
I discovered a website that allows you to watch some surgeries live (or to view archives of past surgeries). OR-Live.com is informational and free. For those interested in neurosurgeries – everything from scoliosis surgery to tumor resection to deep brain stimulation – here is the direct link. Most of the videos are available in Flash format for web-viewing. Many are also available to download as a video podcast. Warning – please don’t watch the videos if you get queasy easily; if you feel queasy while watching one, take a break and do something else for a while.
I hope my readers enjoy this site as much as I have in the past and will continue to in the future.
Mo at Neurophilosophy posted a great video of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery being performed on a man with essential tremor, while he plays the banjo. As with most brain surgeries, the patient was awake, alert, and talking. The doctors had him play the banjo so they could fine tune (pun intended) the electrode placement in order to have the best response.