DBS for Parkinson's patients still going strong after 3 years

Deep brain stimulation seems to help improve Parkinson's disease symptoms in patients over a three-year period, according to a new VA study. That's good news for a number of device companies marketing or developing treatments in the space.

The Department of Veterans Affairs followed up on 159 Parkinson's patients who had agreed to test the implant: a pacemaker-type of device placed on one of two sections in the brain that sends pulses to implanted electrodes. They found that the patients all continued to improve their motor skills over that period, with four to 5 hours each day on average where Parkinson's symptoms, such as shaking or slowed movement, subsided. According to the follow up, however, improvements reached their peak at 6 months and leveled off a bit by the three-year mark.

Those patients were part of an original group of 255 patients, whom researchers have followed at various intervals. At earlier post-implant evaluations, they concluded that deep brain stimulation had higher risks because of surgery complications, but the process could help Parkinson's patients who don't respond well any longer to medication alone.

VA Chief Research and Development Officer Dr. Joel Kupersmith said in a statement that the trial "offers valuable guidance for doctors and patients in VA and throughout the world," and that the research will help "optimize care."

VA researchers used DBS devices made by Medtronic's neurological division, though the company did not design the study or analyze the results, the VA noted. Still, the news offers another slice of positive clinical data that could further propel sales. Medtronic's neuromodulation revenue jumped 7% in its fiscal 2012 fourth quarter, to $463 million, driven, in part, by demand for deep brain stimulation treatments. Other smaller companies, such as Great Lakes NeuroTechnologies and Aleva, are developing deep brain stimulation treatments for Parkinson's and depression.

St. Jude Medical ($STJ) temporarily pulled its Brio deep-brain stimulation device for Parkinson's from the market earlier this year to address product malfunctions.

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