A Parkinson patient who can walk again, and improved life for people with the behavioural disorder known as Tourette syndrome.
These are two of the results of a partnership between University of Queensland neurologist Prof Peter Silburn and neurosurgeon Dr Terry Coyne who have ventured deeper into the human brain than anyone else in the world.
Peter treats patients at St. Andrew’s Hospital in Brisbane using deep brain stimulation, a technique that uses electrodes to stimulate a region some 12 centimetres under the surface of the brain.
“There are 100 billion neurons in the brain and we can’t restore all of them. But the deep brain is like a telephone exchange—by stimulating this one section of the brain, you can unblock the flow of messages,” Peter says.
For example, Peter’s group recently helped a patient with Parkinson’s disease walk again because the stimulation unblocked the flow of messages from the deep brain to the leg nerves.
“Our patients are awake for part of the surgery, so we can actually ask them how they are feeling, give them thinking tasks and actually observe their movement or mood being restored in a matter of seconds in real time.”
Each year Peter and his team use this approach to help over a hundred patients with particularly severe cases of Tourette syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. The group also published research into how behaviour disorders and movement disorders are related in the deep brain.
“Our group is not just the surgical team—we have mechanical engineers and IT experts to design and run the equipment, we have mathematicians and imaging experts to analyse the information we gather, as well as psychologists and neurophysiologists to further develop therapies,” says Peter.