New technique could stop Parkinson’s disease tremors

Researchers at Oxford University could be on the verge of a medical breakthrough in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease

A groundbreaking new technique could help to control tremors in people with Parkinson’s disease, an Oxford University study reveals.

The therapy, called transcranial alternating current stimulation, or TACS, uses a safe electric current applied through electrodes to the outside of the patient’s head to cancel out the signal causing the tremors.

The preliminary study, carried out on 15 people with Parkinson’s disease at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, has shown a 50% reduction in resting tremors. Previously the tremors, which have demonstrated a poor response to drug treatments, could be managed through invasive surgery that saw the insertion of electrodes into the brain to deliver electrical impulses, but this technique carries health risks and is not suitable for all patients.

The TACS approach, which uses two electrode pads applied to the base of the patient’s neck and one on the head, emits a small alternating current to the motor cortex – the part of the brain responsible for the tremors – to match the oscillating signal and cancel it out.

Professor Peter Brown of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences believes the technique can be developed to deliver prolonged stimulation and help the brain adapt itself. “The approach is based on the fact the brain operates using brain waves. If we can stimulate with matching waves we can either replace a signal that is absent or, in this case, cancel out a pathological brain wave,” he said. “It is similar to the principle of noise-cancelling headphones that we are all familiar with.”