Wireless Neurostimulator Could Offer New Treatment for Parkinson's Disease

The “pacemaker for the brain” can listen to and stimulate electric current in the brain simultaneously.

This photo has been resized. Courtesy of Rikky Muller, UC Berkeley.

A new device developed by engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, can listen to and stimulate electric current in the brain simultaneously, providing a potential new treatment path for Parkinson’s disease, according to a new study conducted on a monkey.

The neurostimulator, named the WAND (wireless artifact-free neuromodulation), is said to work like a “pacemaker for the brain,” and can deliver fine-tuned treatments to patients with diseases like epilepsy and Parkinson’s.

The WAND monitors the brain’s electrical activity and delivers electrical stimulation when it detects that something is wrong. The device is both wireless and autonomous, meaning it can adjust the stimulation parameters on its own to prevent unwanted movements once it learns to recognize the signs of tremor or seizure. Because the WAND is closed-loop and can stimulate and record at the same time, it can adjust the parameters in real time.

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The device can record electrical activity from 128 points in the brain, compared to eight channels in other closed-loop systems.

“In order to deliver closed-loop stimulation-based therapies, which is a big goal for people treating Parkinson’s and epilepsy and a variety of neurological disorders, it is very important to both perform neural recordings and stimulation simultaneously, which currently no single commercial device does,” said Samantha Santacruz, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Texas in Austin and a former postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley who worked on the project.

The authors noted that most deep brain stimulators either stop recording while delivering the electrical stimulation or record a part of the brain where the stimulation is not being applied.

“Because we can actually stimulate and record in the same brain region, we know exactly what is happening when we are providing a therapy,” said Rikky Muller, Ph.D., assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at Berkeley.

The team ran experiments after building a platform device with wireless and close-loop computational capabilities that could be programmed for use in both research and clinical applications.

Subjects were taught to use a joystick to move a cursor to a specific location. After a training period, the WAND was capable of detecting the neural signatures that arose as the subjects prepared to perform the motion and then delivering electrical stimulation that delayed the motion.

The team hopes to incorporate learning into its closed-loop platform to build intelligent devices that can best treat the patient and remove the doctor from intervening in the process.

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