IETF Medical Advisory Board Member on TED

Dr. W. Jeffrey Elias photo

Dr. W. Jeffrey Elias

TED, a nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading”, brings the world’s most captivating speakers to the masses through short, prepared talks covering today’s cutting edge technology, entertainment, and design topics. The TED conference recently visited Charlottesville, VA, where IETF Medical Advisory Board member, Dr. W. Jeffrey Elias, discussed his work on the Focused Ultrasound research study for essential tremor.

As Director of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery at the University of Virginia,Dr. Elias has led a number of research investigations. In 2011, his team became the first in the world to successfully treat a person with disabling [essential] tremor using focused ultrasound that was guided by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This procedure and subsequent clinical trials have resulted in an outpouring around the globe of investigations using ultrasound interventions to treat disorders of the brain. ¹

In his presentation, Dr. Elias shared his study results along with a message of the importance of research to further scientific advances.

Watch the taped presentation. Dr. Elias is the second to the last speaker (click on the timeline at approximately 08:30.00 to get right to his section).

¹[Unattributed] TEDx, http://www.ted.com/tedx/events/8358. Nov.15, 2013.

DARPA Focuses on DBS

DBS

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical treatment involving the implantation of a medical device called a brain pacemaker, which sends electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new, advanced technologies in order to maintain the technological superiority of the U.S. military. DARPA recently announced that it will commit $70 million over the next five years to the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative. More specifically, to further investigate Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS).

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery is an FDA-approved treatment that has been proven to significantly reduce the tremor associated with ET. In DBS surgery, a wire (electrode or lead) is placed in the ventral intermediate nucleus (VIM) nucleus of the thalamus, located deep in the brain. The wire connects under the skin to a pacemaker-like device in the chest, which provides mild electrical currents to control symptoms. In ET, DBS of the VIM nucleus of the thalamus is the most commonly used surgical procedure to control tremor.

Advances in technology have now opened up this option for other complex conditions such as depression, which is precisely why DARPA is so interested in the technology.  According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 10% to 18% of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) troops are likely to have PTSD after they return from service.  That is a significant number of men and women who may require treatment.

So what does this initiative mean for those affected by essential tremor? DARPA would like to see DBS go further than just treat symptoms. “There is no technology that can acquire signals that can tell them precisely what is going on with the brain,” says Justin Sanchez, DARPA program manager, to The New York Times. He explained that DARPA is “trying to change the game on how we approach these problems.”

DARPA hopes to develop DBS to the point that the device will be able to monitor brain signals in real time, treat illness accordingly and measure the success of that treatment. This would be a real games changer for ET patients suffering from severe tremor symptoms. Imagine never having to turn the DBS device on or off, or have it calibrated. It would be programed to know exactly how to manage individual tremor symptoms, then evaluate the results and make adjustments accordingly.

Only time will tell if DARPA is successful with this ambitious project. But even if all their goals are not realized, they are bound to discover an abundance of new information about how the brain works.

Learn more about BRAIN.

Head Snap – Promising New Finding

finger test

Scientists recently released a study that could be a useful aid in diagnosing essential tremor.

Researchers at Columbia University found 20% of essential tremor patients in the study exhibited a head snap, which is a jerking motion of the head while engaging in the finger-nose-finger maneuver. In this maneuver, people touch their nose with their finger and then try to touch the examiner’s finger in an alternating fashion to test for tremor.

The study also documented the prevalence of head snap to Parkinson’s disease patients, and they found that none of these patients exhibited head snap.

Because so many ET patients are misdiagnosed (approximately 30-50%), many as having Parkinson’s, researchers hope attention to head snap will lead to more accurate diagnosis of essential tremor.

Read more here.

 

Phase III of Focused Ultrasound Trial Begins

 

Dr. W. Jeffrey Elias photo

Dr. Jeffrey Elias and the ExAblate

The first patient has been treated as part of a Phase III trial evaluating the success and safety of treatment using the ExAblate Neuro on essential tremor patients. The study builds on promising pilot studies demonstrating the preliminary safety and effectiveness of MR guided focused ultrasound technology. Read about Phase I of the trial here.

The results of this trial are expected to support a submission of the ExAblate Neuro to the FDA for Pre-Market Approval.

InSightec, makers of the ExAblate Neuro, will be partnering with BIRD (US-Israel Binational Industry R&D) and the Focused Ultrasound Foundation for this trial.

Find information on registering for this and other essential tremor studies at clinicaltrials.gov.

Results From Focused Ultrasound Study

 

ultrasoundstudy_patients

Dr. Jeff Elias (center) and the patients who participated in the essential tremor study at UVA

The New England Journal of Medicine published the results of the pilot trial for the use of focused ultrasound to treat patients with essential tremor. These Phase I results indicate that focused ultrasound can safely and effectively treat targeted areas deep in the brain.  In focused ultrasound, more than 1,000 ultrasound waves are focused to a single site in the thalamus for the treatment.

The study included 15 patients with essential tremor that could not be managed by medication. Jeffrey Elias, MD, neurosurgeon at the University of Virginia and IETF Medical Advisory Board member, is the lead investigator of the study.

Phase I findings:

  • Dominant hand tremor improved by 75 percent.
  • Substantial improvements in daily disabilities (85 percent) and quality of life as assessed by clinicians and patients.
  • Outcomes and complications were comparable to surgical procedures for tremor, including radio frequency thalamotomy and deep brain stimulation.

Phase III of this study will begin soon. For information on how to register, visit clinicaltrials.gov.

The IETF will continue to watch as results of focused ultrasound studies are posted. Large, randomized controlled trials will be required to assess the procedure’s efficacy and safety.

Watch a video featuring Billy Williams, the first patient treated with focused ultrasound for essential tremor.

Learn more about the Brain Initiative

Follow the progress and learn more about Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies – the BRAIN Initiative – at www.nih.gov/science/brain/index.htm. This is an extremely important project because it accelerates our understanding of how the brain works. This in turn will help advance research that develops new interventions for conditions and diseases – like ET! The new tools and technologies that will be developed will lift all research to new levels and provide breakthroughs in the future that enable the development of better treatments and cures to be found.

New study searches for more precise diagnostic tool

Brain ChangesIt is sometimes difficult, even for a trained neurologist, to tell the difference between Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor when it is in the early stages, as they can share similar symptoms (such as resting tremor). A new Taiwan-based study investigated changes in brain volume in people with essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease, searching for a pattern that might help differentiate between to the two conditions more easily.

The study found that although both ET and PD patients showed a decrease in brain volume in areas involved with movement and muscle control, it also showed increases in other distinct areas. Researchers speculate that this is due to the ability of the brain to compensate for damaged areas by developing and strengthening new pathways, thus increasing the size of those areas.

Although further study is needed, it appears that looking specifically at the areas of the brain that increase in volume, along with other diagnostic and assessment tools, may allow physicians to more accurately differentiate between ET and PD.

Read the abstract.