Parkinson's disease study raises new hope
London: British scientists have developed a new technique which they say could improve the quality of life for patients with Parkinson`s Disease that affects the brain and results in difficulty with walking and movement.
In the research, patients with the early stages of the disease were trained to control areas of the brain associated with movement by using the power of thought alone.
A clinical evaluation later found their movement had improved by up to a third, the researchers said.
Lead researcher Prof David Linden of Cardiff University in the UK called the process "real-time neural feedback".
"Self-regulation of brain activity in humans based on real-time feedback is emerging as a powerful technique," Prof Linden was quoted as saying by the BBC.
For the study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers recruited 10 patients with the disease, five of whom received the brain regulation feedback technique and five acted as a control.
Patients undergoing the training were placed in a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner in Bangor, Gwynedd.
At first, they were asked to squeeze a hand as the team mapped the regions of the brain responsible for controlling movement.
Then, in real time, the subjects were shown the level of activity in these regions displayed on a gauge above them.
They were asked to imagine making complex movements in order to activate the brain centres, and saw a corresponding increase on the gauge. With practice, they were able to increase and decrease the level of activity at will, through thought alone.
Patients experienced a feedback effect as they learnt to control motion centres in their brain, Prof Linden said.
"In this study we assessed whether patients with Parkinson`s disease are able to alter their brain activity to improve their motor function. We wanted them to activate the brain regions associated with movement through the force of their mind," he explained.
Prof Linden stressed that the technique did not offer a cure but he said that improved function could lead to a better quality of life.
"We found that the five patients who received neuro feedback were able to increase activity in brain networks important for movements and that this intervention resulted in an overall improvement in motor speed -- in this case, finger tapping," he said.
"The training resulted in clinically relevant improvement of motor functions -- so assuming patients can learn to transfer the strategies used during neuro feedback into real-life settings, it might also become possible to sustain the clinical benefits," he added.
The research team said the study was a small scale proof of principle and they now hope to stage a larger, randomised, clinical trial.
However, Claire Bale of Parkinson`s UK said though these results are exciting, they are very early days.
"We need much larger, in-depth studies to help us understand the potential these techniques may have to tackle some of the symptoms of Parkinson`s," she said.