Treatment for Parkinson's disease using electric current gets education, training boost

SINGAPORE - Educating patients and training clinicians on a treatment for Parkinson's disease that stimulates the brain with an electric current are among the plans the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) is working on in a new collaboration announced Monday.

The surgical procedure, called deep brain stimulation, is already available here and involves putting electrodes into the brain to help regulate brain signals.

It has been shown to improve a patient's movement and other symptoms of Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that impairs a person's motor skills and speech.

NNI said on Monday that it was working with medical devices company Medtronic International to educate patients and healthcare professionals on the treatment, as well as improve patients' access to it.

The institute added that treatment has been proven to be effective in several trials. The device used for the procedure was also approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2002.

Under a memorandum of understanding, NNI and Medtronic International will also develop a deep brain stimulation training programme for clinicians from South-east Asia and the rest of the world.

NNI added that a centre of excellence for deep brain stimulation will be set up and it would serve to "enhance patient care, safety and quality outcomes".

Parkinson's disease is the second most common neurological disease, and afflicts about three in every 1,000 people aged 50 and above, in Singapore. It is estimated there are between 4,000 to 5,000 such patients here.

Associate Professor Louis Tan, senior consultant for NNI's Department of Neurology, said deep brain stimulation is particularly useful for patients who have developed resistance to medication for Parkinson's disease.

"Deep brain stimulation is an established effective treatment for patients who experience wearing-off symptoms after many years of medication," he said.

"This means that the symptoms of Parkinson's disease will return before the next dose of medication is due. As time goes on, these symptoms become more distinct, leading to an on-off effect. Hence, deep brain stimulation treatment should be considered for these patients."

The entire procedure, including the device and surgery, costs less than $5,000 after subsidies, but this may vary depending on means testing, said NNI.

Former taxi driver Tan Tian Seng, did the procedure last August, and has experienced relief from his Parkinson's disease symptoms since then.

"I feel less giddy, and have also stopped 'freezing' while walking," said the 60-year-old, referring to a temporary, but involuntary, inability to move.

The procedure has also reduced the need for him to take medication by about two thirds, from 1,000 pills a month, to about 300 pills now, he said.