DBS has proven to be highly effective in the treatment of movement disorders when standard drug therapies either do not work or have lost their effectiveness. However, the fact that it is an extremely long, difficult and expensive operation, which involves implanting electrodes deep in the brain, has limited its availability.
Since the procedure's approval in 1998, the number of DBS operations performed has grown gradually to about 3,000 annually, although more than 100,000 people a year could stand to benefit from it as a way of treating the tremor, rigidity, stiffness and slowed movement they experience as a result of neurological disorders ranging from dystonia to multiple sclerosis, to Parkinson's disease, to obsessive-compulsive disease.
To improve the procedure further, a team of electrical engineers and neuroscientists at Vanderbilt University has developed a pilot guidance system that automates the most difficult part of the operation: identifying the proper location to insert the electrodes. To work, the electrodes must pass through small nuclei deep in the brain that are about the size of a pea and are not visible in brain scans or to the naked eye. The researchers writing in a special issue of the journal IEEE Transactions on Medical Imaging published this month report that the new system can do a better job of identifying the initial location to insert the electrodes than an experienced neurosurgeon.
"The biggest problem with the procedure is that the surgeons cannot see the structure where they have to put the electrode and, as a result, they must spend a considerable amount of time searching for it," says Benoit Dawan
Contact: David F. Salisbury