ChristianaCare Is First in Delaware to Offer MR-Guided Ultrasound for Essential and Parkinson’s Tremor

ChristianaCare is the first health care provider in Delaware to offer FDA-approved focused ultrasound treatment for people suffering from essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease.

The new option – called MR-guided focused ultrasound – uses sound wave energy to destroy precise areas of brain tissue that is the source of the tremor. No surgical incision or anesthesia is necessary, and many patients experience immediate and significant reduction in tremors, which can make daily activities challenging.

Justin Martello, M.D.

“This minimally invasive technology dramatically improves the lives of patients with essential tremor and tremor-dominant Parkinson’s who haven’t fully responded to traditional treatments,’’ said Justin Martello, M.D., director of the Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Programs and the Focused Ultrasound Program at ChristianaCare.

Click here for the Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders programs at ChristianaCare.

What is tremor?

Tremor is a neurological condition that includes involuntary shaking or trembling movements in one or more parts of the body. It most commonly affects the hands and can make daily tasks such as writing, eating and using a computer or phone extremely difficult.

Tremor affects approximately 1% of the population overall and 5% of adults age 60+. It is expected to increasingly impact Delawareans as the state’s population ages.

Essential tremor is the most common type of tremor. It can occur at any age but is most common in older adults.

Tremor is also the most well-known symptom of Parkinson’s disease. An estimated 1.5 million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects movement and can also affect speech, balance and cognitive function.

A newer, better option for patients who don’t respond to medications

Pulak Ray, M.D.

The procedure of MR-guided focused ultrasound involves the use of high-frequency sound waves directed with pinpoint precision by magnetic resonance imaging to ablate, or burn, the focal point deep within the brain that is causing tremors. Patients are fitted with a frame affixed to a specialized helmet that combines the focused energy of more than 1,000 high-frequency sonic beams directed through the skull.

The treatment does not require cutting through the skull, or radiation, as in gamma knife technology.

No surgery, no anesthesia and no radiation are needed for MR-guided ultrasound.

“Today, there are basically three options for managing tremor,” said Pulak Ray, M.D., of Delaware Neurosurgical Group and associate director of the Focused Ultrasound program.

“The first is medication, which is effective and affordable for many patients, but its effectiveness tends to diminish over time. The second is deep-brain stimulation, which is the most invasive and costly treatment option.”

“The newest is MR-guided ultrasound, which tends to be the preferable option for most patients who do not respond well to medication, because it is a simple, non-invasive outpatient procedure that is highly effective, safe and produces instant results.”

Benefits of MR-guided focused ultrasound

  • MR-guided focused ultrasound reduces tremor immediately, with shorter recovery time, lower risk of side effects and lower associated health care expenses compared to surgical alternatives.
  • This treatment dramatically improves patient experience and quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease or essential tremor.
  • For many patients, MR-guided ultrasound reduces their dependence on caregivers to assist with activities of daily living.

Candidates must first undergo a CT scan to ensure a skull density sufficiently thick to accommodate the procedure.

The patient is awake during the procedure and situated within an MRI machine for real-time imaging of the brain.

Kim Gannon, M.D., Ph.D.

The physician tests the precise location by heating the area, then ensuring the patient is able to control tremors by tracing lines on a spirograph. At that point, the physician then permanently ablates the focal point, usually a sphere a few millimeters in length.

“Our team is very excited to bring this technology to Delaware and to open up access to potentially life-changing treatment that until now has required long wait times and significant travel for patients,” said Kim Gannon, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the comprehensive stroke program and physician executive of Neuroscience Service Line at ChristianaCare.

“Many tremor patients have suffered for years or even decades with this debilitating and progressive condition and helping them live a more active and independent lifestyle is extremely rewarding.”

MR-guided focused ultrasound is covered by Medicare and most insurance plans.