Deep brain stimulation procedure helps Parkinson's patients talk again

"The FDA recognizes this is an underutilized therapy that more people stand to benefit from this therapy than currently undergo this operation," said Dr. Francisco Ponce, a neurosurgeon at the Barrow Neurological Institute.

A treatment known as brain stimulation is best described as a pacemaker for the brain. It's being used successfully to treat disorders like Parkinson's disease.

"Deep brain stimulation is used to treat Parkinson's disease and for essential tremor we kind of think of it as a brain pacemaker," Dr. Ponce said.

A pacemaker that corrects brain rhythms that interfere with patients' lives.

"What we do in deep brain stimulation, we tap into these nodes where these circuits are going awry and we reset those circuits," Dr. Ponce said.

The side effects of drugs used to treat Parkinson's are one big factor, leading patients to this procedure.

Doctors say those patients do well with deep brain stimulation and the procedure lasts just a couple hours.

"The hardware we use for deep brain stimulation, these are internal pulse generators, these are the pacemakers that can be implanted under the skin," Dr. Ponce said.

It's a brief, but delicate surgery.

"We make a hole the size of a dime at the top of a head, we deliver a wire with a high degree of accuracy into the node, we try to hit the structure within a couple of millimeters," Dr. Ponce said. "The pacemaker provides the pulses that basically calm the brain and reset the brain so it can function normally again."

For Parkinson's patients, the results are life-changing.

"By the time they see me, they've gone thru so much and then they get this implant this brain pacemaker and they've regained control of faculties they didn't have before... the ability to walk, the ability to pick up a cup of coffee," Dr. Ponce said.

Just this week, the FDA approved the use of deep brain stimulation to treat epilepsy. Barrow's is one of the few center in the country that's exploring the use of the procedure for conditions like Alzheimer's and seizures.