Featured Researcher

Testing New Techniques for Deep Brain Stimulation

It has been 15 years since deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery was approved as a therapy for Parkinson’s disease (PD). For those who qualify, DBS surgery can dramatically ease symptoms and reduce the need for medications. Now, Jing Wang, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, is studying ways to make DBS even better. Dr. Wang used a one-year $50,000 Research Fellowship from the Parkinson’s Foundation to study a new-and-improved technique that she hopes can improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s. Here, she shares her findings.

Q. What interested you in studying DBS for PD?

A: The first time I learned about DBS surgery was from my mentor Jerrold Vitek, M.D., Ph.D. I was amazed to learn how DBS could improve lives. Later, I came to understand that, given our improved knowledge of the brain and technology, we should be able to make DBS better! That’s how I came to explore novel DBS therapies that can improve life for people living with Parkinson’s disease.

Q. Can you share the DBS technique you studied?

A: We studied a new way of stimulating the brain called coordinated reset or CR-DBS. With this method, DBS surgery remains the same. What is new is how we stimulate the brain with electricity afterwards. For example, standard DBS delivers constant quick and intense electrical pulses to the brain. In contrast, CRDBS delivers low amplitude bursts of electricity into different areas of the brain at random. Also, standard DBS only works when the stimulator is turned on. But our study showed the effects of CR-DBS on the brain persist for up to two weeks after it’s turned off.

Q. How might this method be more effective?

A: In early studies, we found that the technique led to long-term improvements in PD movement symptoms. In fact, the improvements lasted longer than those associated with standard DBS. Additionally, because the technique requires less stimulation, it may reduce side effects. Lastly, because we have shown the effects of CRDBS persist long after the stimulator has been turned off, it may extend the life of the DBS battery. A longer lasting battery could help people with PD avoid frequent medical procedures needed when their battery dies.

Q. Is this technique available to people with PD?

A: We need more research before it becomes available to understand how CR-DBS affects the brain and if it can impact other symptoms. But the good news is that we are only one step away from clinical trials! In fact, the University of Minnesota was recently designated a Udall Center of Excellence for Parkinson’s Disease, in part thanks to the preliminary research findings supported by my Parkinson’s Foundation fellowship. One goal of our designation is to study this new DBS technique in people with Parkinson’s. It’s exciting.

Q. How might this work impact the community?

A: We hope this work can bring people with Parkinson’s more treatment options that are tailored to their needs and can further improve their daily lives. We also hope to encourage more researchers to join us in the exploration of novel DBS therapies to create better treatments.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A: I am amazed that organizations like the Parkinson’s Foundation are supporting lab research. This award was critical in supporting our first steps of exploring this novel DBS strategy. Based on the preliminary findings, we were able to collaborate with industry and get support to start clinical trials, which made our research highly translational to future Parkinson’s therapies.