New noninvasive procedure helps stop tremors

Technology uses MRI-guided focused ultrasound to stop tremors

By Aaron Wische - Senior Executive Producer, Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

HOUSTON - More than 7 million Americans suffer from a disabling movement disorder that causes their hands to shake uncontrollably. Now, a new noninvasive procedure is helping to stop the tremors.

"They've affected me since I was in my 30s," Harriet Marksfield said of her tremors. "I couldn't carry a cup, a full cup of coffee, to the table."

"Essential tremor is the most common movement disorder, about three times more common than Parkinson's disease," neurosurgeon Dr. Travis Tierney said.

The condition can be hereditary and, despite medication, gets worse over time.

Now, new technology by INSIGHTEC uses MRI-guided focused ultrasound to stop the tremors, treating them in the brain, where they start.

"It's focused in the precise spot in the brain where the tremor cells are and that's in part of the brain called the thalamus," Tierney said.

While the patient is in the special MRI, an ultrasound beam targets the specific area of the brain causing the tremor, destroying it.

"Accurately, within 3 to 4 millimeters destroy a tiny amount of brain tissue that you don't really need but that's causing the side effects of the tremors," Dr. Dan Sperling said.

Patients are awake during the procedure and they can see it working in real time.

"So we can actually see our results immediately, and the patient sees it, which is very powerful," Sperling said.

"You can expect 70 to 80 percent tremor reduction. So in some cases you may what's called get tremor arrest, and the tremor’s gone," Tierney said.

"It's steadiness there," patient Earl Jantzi said.

Jantzi's right hand no longer shakes and he can sign his name again.

Right now, the procedure is only approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating one side of the brain. That is why Tierney treats the patient's dominant hand. Side effects of the procedure can include some numbing and tingling on the side being treated, but generally this goes away.

Currently, the treatment is not covered by insurance and can cost upwards of $25,000, but INSIGHTEC said it is working to get Medicare and U.S. insurance companies to cover the treatment.

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