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FDA Approves Focused Ultrasound to Treat Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on February 4, 2023

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that one million Americans currently live with. The incidence of PD is steadily increasing, highlighting the desperate need for a cure, or at least a new treatment modality. A new type of incision-less brain surgery involving ultrasound waves may fulfill that need for many PD sufferers.


The FDA’s approval


In November 2021, the FDA granted approval to Insightec’s Exablate Neuro device, which treats symptoms of Parkinson’s disease noninvasively. The device is a breath of fresh air, in that it treats symptoms without the need for medication or surgical techniques (which aren’t always well tolerated). Instead, it simply directs ultrasound waves into the brain to correct faulty brain circuitry. It’s been compared to a magnifying glass being used to focus light.


So what symptoms of PD can the device treat? To date, Exablate Neuro can lessen mobility issues, rigidity, and involuntary movements, key symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. 


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A new method of care


Jeff Elias, MD, a neurosurgeon at University of Virginia Health where the device was successfully tested, says the device could be a good alternative for use in patients that don’t respond to medication.


“This FDA approval of focused ultrasound pallidotomy allows for more treatment options if medications become ineffective or cause disabling side effects,” said Elias. “While this procedure does not provide a cure for Parkinson’s disease, there is now a less invasive option for patients suffering with medication-induced dyskinesia or severe motor deficits.”


How it’s used


The device can create permanent changes in the brain, so doctors are able to determine how the ultrasound waves will affect the patient even before making any alterations to brain circuits. They do this via magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) technology, which enables them to see an image of the patient’s brain in real time. This allows for a high degree of accuracy and helps prevent any adverse outcomes.


A new era of treatment


Ultrasound wave technology was initially tested in a patient with a disorder similar to PD–essential tremor. After results proved successful, the technology was FDA-approved for use in essential tremor in 2018. The FDA’s recent approval for use in PD marks the beginning of an era of new treatments for a wide range of conditions. For instance, the same technology has shown promise in treating breast cancer, epilepsy, and even certain types of brain tumors. In fact, focused ultrasound is currently being trialled at UVA for the treatment of glioblastoma, a highly malignant brain cancer.


Although the causes of PD are still unclear, new treatments like focused ultrasound are helping scientists get to the bottom of the disease and ensure a better quality of life for sufferers worldwide.


Written by Natan Rosenfeld

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