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DBS Restores Function for Parkinson’s Patient Through New “Sensing” Pacemaker: A UCSF Case Study

Illustration by Ken Probst for the UCSF Department of Neurological Surgery

When Dave was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 46, he had already been experiencing debilitating symptoms for three years. “My finger would twitch, and my foot would turn in involuntarily,” he said. “As time went on, the symptoms progressed.”

Dave’s additional symptoms included overall stiffness, especially in his left arm; facial dystonia; dysarthria; and a shuffling gait.

“The symptoms were attacking me throughout the day and even at night,” he continued. “I was taking medication every four hours, so I wasn’t getting much sleep and I was suffering from side effects. The aggressive symptoms forced me to leave my job, and my family was getting more and more concerned.”

Deep brain stimulation at UCSF

Dave, a Colorado resident, consulted his neurologist, who suggested deep brain stimulation (DBS) as an option. “I was optimistically trying to do everything I could to fight the disease,” Dave said. “When realism took over my optimism, I knew I needed the surgery. I couldn’t live with what was happening.”

“My objections [to surgery] boiled down to me having a loss of control – essentially putting my life in someone else’s hands and not knowing what would happen to me afterward,” he added. “The only way I knew how to counter my objection was to find the best surgeon and research facility. I researched DBS, and Drs. Ostrem and Starr stood out to me. That’s why I came to UCSF for treatment.”

Neurologist Jill Ostrem, MD, and neurosurgeon Philip Starr, MD, PhD, lead the UCSF Movement Disorders and Neuromodulation Center, which provides comprehensive, state-of-the-art care for patients with Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, essential tremor and other movement disorders.

In February 2022, Dave had a Percept PC neurostimulator implanted by Starr and his surgical team, who targeted the subthalamic nucleus (STN). “It was the best day of my life,” Dave said. After the procedure, his Parkinson’s symptoms stopped. “Now I can be in control and do what I want to do. I'll be able to be an active participant in my son’s wedding and travel with my wife. I have restored hope.”

The future of personalized DBS

Dave has enrolled in a multicenter clinical trial at UCSF called Adaptive DBS Algorithm for Personalized Therapy in Parkinson’s Disease. This study allows researchers to continuously record brain physiology from the DBS electrode and automatically adjust the stimulation intensity based on these signals.

“The Percept PC neurostimulator is the first commercial system that can sense brain activity,” Ostrem said. “We’re trying to understand what those brain signals mean and use that information to determine how the device can be programmed and adjusted for an individual patient.”

“This surgery has given me back my high quality of life,” Dave said. “I’m very grateful and excited about the future.”

Neurology and neurosurgery research and treatment take place within the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences.

To learn more

UCSF Movement Disorders and Neuromodulation Center

Phone: (415) 353-2311 | Fax: (415) 353-9060

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