U of M Health leads the way with new treatment for Parkinson's disease

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University of Minnesota Health is leading the way in the fight against Parkinson's disease, becoming the first health system in the country to implant a new treatment device just approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The new device is called Vercise, developed by Boston Scientific. It is an enhancement of a decades-old treatment for movement disorders like Parkinson’s, called deep brain stimulation, or DBS.

U of M Health played an important role in the clinical trial for Vercise, and now the treatment is open to all patients.

“It's a really exciting time because things are coming out so fast now that it's fun, it's a lot of fun,” said University of Minnesota Health Neurologist, Dr. Jerrold Vitek.

Vitek is also a professor and chair of the Department of Neurology in the Medical School at the University of Minnesota. He and his team performed the DBS procedure at the University of Minnesota Medical Center this week.

In DBS, a surgeon implants a small wire into targeted parts of a patient’s brain, sending electrical currents to help with tremors, stiffness or slowness.

A pacemaker-type device is then implanted under the skin on the chest and can be programmed with a remote.

“These are what we call brain pacemakers," said Vitek. "It's like a pacemaker for the heart, but it goes into structures deep in the brain."

Vitek believes the new device takes DBS a step further by allowing doctors to individually change the levels of those currents.

“What these devices have been able to do, and I think what the Boston device will allow us to do even better, is to improve those movement problems pretty significantly in patients, so a tremor can go away,” Vitek said. 

Vitek uses the analogy of controlling a home's thermostat to explain how Vercise works.

“It's almost like having a thermostat in your house," he said. "And you can have a thermostat that you can turn the temperature up or down and every room in the house goes up or down. But what this does, is it allows you to control each room's temperature separately."

The patient is doing well and Vitek is looking forward to programming the device soon.

“You have so many options, so much flexibility, that I can sculpt the current field in a way that I think works best for the patient,” Vitek said.

Now that the device is FDA approved, it is available to all patients and should be covered by insurance.

“Years ago they said neurologists can diagnose, then they say ‘adios’… Now, we don't tell that anymore. We don't tell that to people. Now we diagnose and then talk about what we can do for you,” Vitek said.