Your Health: Using an ultrasound to control brain tremors

One million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease. Now, doctors are using focused ultrasound to target the area of the brain causing the problems.
Published: Oct. 27, 2022 at 9:51 AM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - One million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease. Medications can help with the symptoms, and for some patients, deep brain stimulation, or DBS, works to control the tremors.

Now, doctors are using focused ultrasound to target the area of the brain causing the problems.

For the first time in years, Mark Witman’s hands are steady. His Parkinson’s symptoms started 13 years ago.

“I was just favoring my one side and dragging my foot,” Witman said.

Medication controlled it at first, but eventually, for this lifetime Orioles fan, Parkinson’s put a damper on a 20-year-long tradition every opening day, after the game.

“What we do is we watch Field of Dreams,” Witman said. “If you’re familiar with the movie, at the end, father and son have a catch. It’s been getting tougher and tougher for me to throw and catch.”

Witman went to see neurologist Paul Fishman, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Fishman recommended a non-invasive procedure called focused ultrasound. Doctors use MRI guidance to send ultrasonic sound waves through the skull.

“When that sound energy hits the brain, it’s converted into heat,” said Dr. Fishman.

That eliminates the tiny tissue that’s causing the problem. Focused ultrasound is FDA-approved for one side of the brain, but Witman was part of a clinical trial performing the procedure on both sides.

“This particular research study demands that people do well for a six-month period before it’s a go-to do the second side,” Dr. Fishman said.

Witman had the first ultrasound procedure in January and followed with the other side six months later.

“You could feel it immediately,” Witman said.

For Witman, this year’s tradition was better than years past.

“We had our catch and, right away, I knew, hey, I could throw.”

Making it a homerun for Witman and his family.

The bilateral-focused ultrasound procedure has been done successfully on patients in Switzerland and Japan. The trial is being conducted at four sites in the United States, none of which are in Michigan.

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