Advanced MRI scans may improve treatment of Parkinson's disease, reduce risk of side effects

Advanced MRI scans may improve treatment of Parkinson's disease, reduce risk of side effects
There is no cure for Parkinson's disease, but medications may help improve the symptoms. © Getty images

About 10 million people worldwide are estimated to be affected by Parkinson's disease, with higher incidence reported from the industrialized countries. Read to know about the new treatment procedures.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : June 17, 2020 10:20 AM IST

Researchers have come up with three new refined MRI techniques that may enable treatment of Parkinson's disease without surgery and fewer adverse effects. Parkinson's disease is considered to be the second most common degenerative neurological disorder after Alzheimer's disease. It can affect your memory as well as movement.

A new research led by UT Southwestern researchers uses three advanced MRI methods to more precisely target a small area in the brain linked to Parkinson's disease and essential tremor. The MRI methods will allow neuroradiologists to zero in on a pea-sized region in the brain's thalamus involved in the movement. Then the precise brain images can help doctors to ablate, or burn away, problem tissue with high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), the researchers explained.

They added that this will lead to fewer adverse effects as "we're not hitting the wrong target." Imprecise targeting may cause adverse effects such as problems walking or slurring words. Usually such effects are temporary, but they can be permanent in 15 to 20 per cent of cases one of the authors of the study stated.

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The three MRI techniques described in the study are diffusion tractography, quantitative susceptibility mapping, and fast grey matter acquisition TI inversion recovery. The US Food and Drug Administration has already approved these procedures for use in patients. UTSW plans to begin employing the techniques to treat patients staring this fall.

Parkinson's disease: Causes and risk factors

As per estimates, Parkinson's disease affects 1 percent of the population over the age of 60. Studies have revealed that the incidence of neurological disorder is much more common in men than women. One estimate suggests it affects about 50 percent more men than women.

Parkinson's disease occurs when certain nerve cells (neurons) in the brain gradually break down or die. Most of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease are linked to loss of neurons that produce a chemical messenger in your brain called dopamine. Decrease in dopamine levels can cause abnormal brain activity, leading to symptoms of Parkinson's disease. The exact cause of Parkinson's disease is not known yet, but several factors are thought to play a role in development of the disease. These include genetic mutations, exposure to certain toxins, and having a close relative with Parkinson's disease. Age is another risk factor for Parkinson's disease. It usually affects people age 60 or older.

Symptoms of Parkinson's disease

There is no cure for Parkinson's disease, but medications may help improve the symptoms. In rare cases, doctors may recommend surgery to regulate certain regions of the brain to improve the symptoms. Signs and symptoms of Parkinson's disease may not be the same for everyone. In the early stage of the disease, one may experience a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. The disorder may also cause stiffness or slowing of movement. Watch out for these common signs and symptoms of Parkinson's disease:

  • A tremor that usually begins in a limb, often your hand or fingers.
  • Slow movement
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Impaired posture and balance
  • Decreased ability to perform unconscious movements, like blinking or smiling
  • Dysarthria (difficulty speaking) and dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
  • Difficulty writing

It is estimated that about 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson's disease, of which majority are from industrialized countries.