June 21, 2005
by Orrin Schonfeld
Los Angeles-- Using tiny technology, UCLA engineers have developed devices that may offer insight into exactly how one kind of treatment is so successful in relieving tremors in some Parkinson’s patients.
Deep brain stimulation, or DBS, calmed the tremors in Steve Tarence’s right hand, giving him back much of the life Parkinson’s disease had taken away. "I am not afraid to go out, I’m not afraid to eat... have soup, I’m not afraid to do so many things."
He hopes it will be as successful in his left hand. With DBS, surgeons implant electrodes into the brain to stimulate the areas causing the tremors. But how this electrical stimulation relieves the uncontrolled movement, and what the long-term consequences of it might be, are not fully understood.
Miniature electrodes no wider than a few of our own cells, designed by UCLA engineer jack Judy and his research team, will offer neuroscientists the chance to study DBS in the brains of rodents.
As they reported in the journal IEEE, Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, the electrodes can be implanted into the rodents' brains to stimulate areas affected by Parkinson’s. There, the normal electrical brain signaling has been disrupted and that produces the tremors.
At the same time other electrodes record the activity of cells in these areas. Judy hopes that with his work various areas of brain research can move forward, helping people like Tarence with Parkinson’s disease and people with other diseases of the brain as well.