As a live TV audience watches, a neurosurgery team at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland will perform an operation that has helped many Parkinson’s disease patients get significant relief from their debilitating symptoms—tremors, rigidity, stiffness, slowed movements and difficulty walking—and also enabled them to reduce their amount of medication.
Deep Brain Stimulation, or DBS, was pioneered as a Parkinson’s treatment by Dr. Alim-Louis Benabid, a neurosurgeon who also possessed a Ph.D. in physics. In the 1980s, patients were treated by surgically destroying parts of their brains where tremors originated, or using medication with unpleasant side-effects. In 1987, Benabid was performing a surgery using the then-standard method of burning away brain tissue with an electrode. As he tested various regions with electrical pulses, Benabid wondered what would happen if he used different frequencies. To his surprise, he found one that suppressed the patient’s tremor. “I thought, aha, this might be the solution,” he later recalled in a 2010 Lancet article.