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Targeted Relief for Patients with Parkinson’s

Neuron firing is unrestrained and synchronous in patients with Parkinson's disease, rather than selective and sequential, thus causing the typical tremor and muscular rigidity the patients experience. A new deep brain pacemaker is able to release the cells from their pathological synchronization. With targeted weak disturbing impulses, electrodes in the brain interrupt the "sustained fire" when neurons fire synchronously in a pathological manner. The innovative pacemaker was jointly developed by Prof. Peter Tass of Forschungszentrum Jülich and neurologist Prof. Volker Sturm of the University Hospital of Cologne.

What causes Parkinson's? In a small area of the midbrain, cells are destroyed that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. The resulting dopamine depletion causes the functional destruction of another core area in the brain. Instead of a differentiated signal exchange among the brain cells, steady synchronous firing occurs, triggering the shaking of the muscle cells referred to as tremor.

Brain pacemakers have already been available for several years for patients with Parkinson's disease. However, the new brain pacemaker developed by Tass and Sturm counteracts the actual disease processes in a way that is much easier on the patient and more effective. The electrical impulses are sent in a demand-controlled manner, in fact, only when brain cells begin to fire pathologically in the same mode. Neuron activity in the overactive areas of the brain is therefore not suppressed but rather is deliberately thrown off beat. To this end, Sturm and Tass simulated the affected neuron clusters in mathematical models and developed mild but very efficient stimulation techniques using methods of modern mathematics and statistical physics.

The particular effectiveness of the new brain pacemaker is based on the fact that it specifically exploits fundamental laws of the nervous system – dynamic self-assembly principles and plastic learning rules – to achieve maximum effects with minimum impacts. The new brain pacemaker desynchronizes, i.e. it selectively combats the pathological synchronization processes in the affected neuron populations. In addition to suppressing the symptoms with the lowest possible impact, the mode of action of the new brain pacemaker aims to reach a healing effect through stimulation-controlled unlearning of the pathological interactions in the affected neuron clusters.