Focused ultrasound: Scalpel-free surgery for Parkinson’s tremor


The researchers have moved one-step forward in examining a scalpel-free surgery in Parkinson tremor treatment. They determined the improvement of tremors caused by Parkinson's disease using focused ultrasound, which produced encouraging results. The findings were published in the scientific journal JAMA Neurology and further research is warranted.

This small pilot study included 27 participants with tremor-dominant Parkinson's disease. Among 27 participants, 20 were randomly assigned to receive focused ultrasound treatment while the others received a mock procedure. This mock procedure accounted for any potential placebo effect.  All 27 participants had tremors that had resisted medical treatment, and all continued taking their existing Parkinson's medication.

The trial participants’ median age was 67.8 years, and 26 were male. Twenty participants randomly assigned to receive focused ultrasound had a median improvement of 62% in their hand tremor 3 months later. Whereas who received the mock procedure also improved, but to a lesser degree, suggesting some placebo effect. Significantly, the side effects reported were mild numbness on one side of the body, which improved and persistent numbness of the face and finger. During the study, two subjects also experienced partial weakness that recovered or improved.


The researchers concluded that, to better establish the effectiveness of focused ultrasound for Parkinson's tremor, further studies are needed.


Focused Ultrasound

Focused ultrasound for the treatment of essential tremor has already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It has also been evaluated for the treatment of other conditions including breast cancer, brain tumors, epilepsy, and pain, by other researchers. Similar to a magnifying glass, this focused ultrasound works by focusing sound waves inside the body generating a tiny hot spot. The faulty brain circuits were interrupted by carefully controlling this process. Unlike traditional brain surgery there is no need to drill or cut into the skull. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) traces the location and intensity of the procedure in real time. This is an important safety feature when making permanent changes to the brain.

Further steps

The researchers believe that potential role of focused ultrasound in managing Parkinson's disease could be better explained by a larger, multicenter study. The researcher Binit Shah said, "Our findings suggest that the patients likely to benefit from this approach are those for whom tremor reduction is enough to improve their quality of life."