The implant overrides the abnormal brain-cell firing patterns caused by Parkinson’s. The trial’s first patient Tony Howells, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s nine years ago, said the effect was “amazing”. Twenty-five patients have now been selected for a trial at North Bristol NHS Trust, due to finish next year. If the trial is successful, it will be possible to treat Parkinson’s patients more easily.
Tony, who received his implant in November 2020, said: “Before the operation I went for a walk on Boxing Day with my wife and I got 200 yards.
“I had to turn around and go back because I just couldn’t walk.
“Then, after the operation, which was 12 months later, I went on Boxing Day again and we went for 2.5 miles and we could’ve gone further. It was amazing.”
Parkinson’s disease causes parts of the brain to become progressively damaged over time, and currently has no cure.
Symptoms include involuntary tremors, slow movement and stiff and inflexible muscles. Most patients develop symptoms when they are over 50, but around five per cent of sufferers first experience issues when they are under 40.
Traditional operations for Parkinson’s involve implanting a fairly large battery into the chest with wires that run under the skin through to the top of the head. The new deep brain stimulation system, the smallest that has ever been created, involves a tiny battery system that is implanted into the skull.
The device delivers electrical impulses directly to targeted areas deep within the brain, critical in regulating movement. It takes just three hours to carry out the operation.
Dr Alan Whone, a consultant neurologist at North Bristol NHS Trust who is leading the trial, said: “We are delighted with how this first case went in the operating theatre and with how the patient’s symptoms have improved over the last year.
“We are hopeful that if these findings hold up, we will have a significant technical advance by which to improve Parkinson’s care across the world.”
Tony added: “You can’t understand how frustrating Parkinson’s is until it happens to you.
“The most difficult thing to accept is the decline in daily activities. It affects your everyday life no end.” He said deep brain stimulation is “a great way to give somebody their life back”.