Science, Please: a “pacemaker” against Parkinson’s

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The limbs become flexible and less rigid again, speech becomes more fluid and the tremor effectively disappears. These are the effects that are recorded on a Parkinson’s patient subjected to deep brain stimulation or DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation). The first devices of this type date back more than 20 years ago. Their installation is rather invasive, requiring a surgical operation in which several holes are drilled in the skull through which wires are passed that connect the brain to a series of electronic equipment that will have the aim of stimulating the areas of the brain that cause the greatest problems and inconvenience to Parkinson’s patients. But it’s worth it? Prof. Sergio Barbieri, a neuroscientist at the Milan Polyclinic, has no doubts: “the cost-benefit ratio is certainly towards benefit, in most cases patients improve their living conditions immediately after the operation”.

Newronika, a spin-off that comes from the public

Prof. Barbieri is on the Newronika team boardagency spin off of the Polyclinic and the University of Milan, which has been involved for years in the development of AlphaDBS, a particularly innovative deep brain stimulator.

“Parkinson’s – he explains to Science, Please – has a fluctuating trend, the patient is sometimes blocked, other times he has dyskinesias. Until now the stimulation was calibrated at the beginning and constant, without therefore adapting to the patient’s conditions. AlphaDBS instead succeeds to adapt to the situation that the Parkinson’s patient is experiencing at that moment, respecting his circadian cycle. He succeeds because the electrode used until now only for stimulation also records information on the neurons: a feedback that allows the stimulation to be regulated”. Newronica has just received new funding of €2 million from the European Innovation Council to extend the AlphaDBS clinical trial. “Now a study is about to begin on 75 patients between Europe and the United States in about fifteen centers”, explains Barbieri. “We also founded a company in the United States also to have authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.”

How we will treat ourselves

“Medicine in the future – concludes Barbieri – will no longer be curative but empowering, in the sense that it will be the cyborg union of human faculties with those of a structure based on silicon. There are obviously ethical and moral problems but we are already used to making up for to our shortcomings with external elements: from glasses that allow us to see better to smartphones without which we now feel like we have lost an arm. Even if there are many fears, humanity has always done everything that could be done, none has he ever stopped before a discovery that could have both beneficial and evil effects as in this case.”

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