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Man's hands stop shaking for first time in 15 years after doctors zap his brain with pioneering ultrasound treatment
Doctors used MRI scans to find rogue brain cells causing the tremorUltrasound killed cells by heating them
Patient was awake and aware throughout the five-hour procedure and didn't need anaestheticExperts say it could help patients with other conditions such as Parkinson's or brain tumours
16:45 GMT, 19 December 2012
A man whose hands shook so violently he struggled to eat and drink has undergone a pioneering treatment to ease his tremor.
Tony Lightfoot, 68, can now write fluently and drink a glass of water without spilling a drop – tasks he had found impossible before the treatment.
He underwent an experimental procedure using high-intensity ultrasound waves that 'punch' a tiny hole in the part of the brain where the tremor originates to access the rogue cells causing it.
Remarkably, the revolutionary procedure does not require an aesthetic. Instead, the patient remains alert throughout the treatment.
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Tony Lightfoot sits on an MRI table before his focused high energy ultrasound treatment at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto
Before treatment (left) Mr Lightfoot was unable to hold a cup of water even with two hands. Afterwards (left) he could sip from it with ease
The treatment is potentially life-changing for sufferers of tremor, which is the most common movement disorder.
THE COMMON MOVEMENT DISORDER THAT CAN MAKE SIMPLE TASKS IMPOSSIBLE
Essential tremor usually affects the arms and hands and makes them shake noticeably.
It gradually gets worse over the years and eventually may become so
severe that carrying out normal, everyday activities can become
The condition affects men and women equally and is more common with age. Around four in 100 people over 40 are affected.
It is triggered by making small detailed movements, which makes activities like writing, drinking a glass of water of tying shoelaces challenging.
Being tired, anxious, hot or cold is also likely to make your symptoms worse.
Research suggests that it is caused by a mutation in a gene and around half of cases are inherited.
Other conditions that can cause a tremor include an overactive thyroid, Parkinson's disease, M.S and drug withdrawal.
The most effective medicines to treat the condition are propanolol and primidone. However, they do not work for up to half of patients.
Deep brain stimulation has also been shown to reduce tremor. It involves running an electric current through the brain, however it does carry the risk of several side-effects.
Neurosurgeon and co-investigator Dr Andres Lozano, from Toronto Western Hospital, said: 'There was a clearly visible and
dramatic improvement in tremor in the patient cases seen so far.'
Now the Canadian team of scientists believe the surgery-free technique could help to treat a host of other conditions from brain tumours to
Lead investigator, Dr Michael Scwartz from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, said: 'This new non-invasive procedure is revolutionising medicine. It could have far-reaching implications for many brain conditions including brain tumours and other movement disorders.
'Although only five patients have
been treated so far in Canada, the procedure appears to be safe, and
associated with limited side-effects.'
Mr Lightfoot, who had suffered with a tremor for 15 years, shook whenever he tried to use his muscles and was unable to perform everyday tasks such as buttoning his shirt.
'When eating, my wife often has to feed me with a spoon,' he explained.
The former engineer was put forward for the trial after
medication failed to control his worsening condition. To prepare for the
five-hour surgery, he had his head shaved and was fitted with a ring held
in place against his skull. A helmet containing a tube of cold liquid
was placed on top to stop his skull from overheating.
On Tuesday, Mr Lightfoot underwent an
MRI scan, during which doctors pinpointed the faulty brain tissue and
zapped it using ultrasound beams. With each zap, the shaking in his
right hand and arm diminished until it had disappeared. Early results
suggest his dominant hand is now steady.
'That is fantastic. Fantastic,' he said after picking up and drinking a cup of water without any mishaps.
'I never thought it would happen.'
The unusual-looking specialist head device transmitted the ultrasound waves into Mr Lightfoot's brain
Doctors at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, study Mr Lightfoot's MRI brain scans
Mr Lightfoot's right arm became noticeably more steady during the procedure
Mr Lightfoot said the procedure has boosted his self-esteem and he is looking forward to being able to write once again.
At present doctors are only treating one side of the brain and so focus on improving the patient's dominant hand. Dr Schwarz added that clinical trials were still at an early stage and more research is needed to see if it causes any complications and how long the beneficial effects last.
The study is the result of collaboration between world leading experts at Sunnybrook and the Krembil Neuroscience Centre at Toronto Western Hospital.
VIDEO: See how Tony's dominant hand improved dramatically after the treatment
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