Clinicians at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust have used high-intensity, focused ultrasound waves for the first time in the UK to treat patients with debilitating tremors, avoiding traditional, invasive brain surgery techniques.

Around one million people in the UK are affected by Essential Tremor (ET), a brain disorder characterised by uncontrollable shaking. Approximately, 100,000 people also have tremors caused by other movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.

The new treatment, known as ‘MRI-guided focused ultrasound for brain’ works by accurately applying heat energy from ultrasound waves to very specific parts of the brain to break the abnormal circuit causing the tremor. The procedure is performed under local anaesthetic with no need for invasive brain surgery. Trials in America and Japan have shown that it reduces the severity of tremor by at least 80 per cent. The treatment works immediately and the results are expected to be long-lasting.

We are pleased with the results of the trial so far. We anticipate that this new approach to therapy in essential tremor and other movement disorders, including Parkinson’s, will allow huge improvements in patients’ quality-of-life without the need for invasive procedures or expensive, poorly tolerated and often ineffective drug therapy.
Professor Wladyslaw Gedroyc, consultant radiologist and principal investigator for the trial
This new technique, which is in my view the biggest breakthrough in medical science in the last 20 years, could offer hope to many in the future by providing those with limited treatment options a non-invasive highly effective treatment.
Dr Peter Bain, consultant neurologist at the Trust, co-coordinator of the trial, and NTF Trustee
“This breakthrough allows us to operate on patients without the significant risks associated with deep brain stimulation. We are at the cusp of widening the applications of this innovative technology to help a wide variety of patients, some of whom had no therapeutic option before.
Mr Dipankar Nandi, consultant neurosurgeon who performed the treatment

The Trust hopes that the procedure will be made widely available on the NHS once the trials have concluded and the effectiveness of the treatment proved. The treatment will then need to be approved by NICE and NHS England before it can be rolled out across the NHS. The current trial is restricted to patients with essential tremor only. It is anticipated that new trials will be set up to examine the benefits of the treatment for people with Parkinson’s disease and other types of tremor, including multiple sclerosis associated tremor in the near future.

We are pleased to note that the NTF have financially supported this project through funding for staff involved in the project.

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