A new therapy could help suppress tremors in people with Parkinson's disease, an Oxford University study suggests.
The technique – called transcranial alternating current stimulation or TACS – cancels out the brain signal causing the tremors by applying a small, safe electric current across electrodes on the outside of a patient’s head.
The preliminary study, conducted with 15 people with Parkinson's disease at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital, is published in the journal Current Biology. The researchers showed a 50 per cent reduction in resting tremors among the patients.
Physical tremors are a significant and debilitating symptom of Parkinson's disease, but do not respond well to existing drug treatments. Tremors can be successfully treated with deep brain stimulation, a technique that involves surgery to insert electrodes deep into the brain itself to deliver electrical impulses. But this invasive therapy is expensive and carries some health risks, including bleeding in to the brain, which means it is not suitable for all patients.
In TACS in contrast, the electrode pads are placed on the outside of the patient's head, so it does not carry the risks associated with deep brain stimulation. Tremors experienced by Parkinson's sufferers can be devastating and any therapy that can suppress or reduce those tremors significantly improves quality of life for patients.
Professor Peter Brown of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, who led the study, said: 'Tremors experienced by Parkinson's sufferers can be devastating and any therapy that can suppress or reduce those tremors significantly improves quality of life for patients.
'We are very hopeful this research may, in time, lead to a therapy that is both successful and carries reduced medical risks. We have proved the principle, now we have to optimise it and adapt it so it is able to be used in patients. Often that is the hardest part.'