More precise surgical tool for deep-brain stimulation offers a solution to waiting lists

June 20, 2018, Eindhoven University of Technology
More precise surgical tool for deep-brain stimulation offers a solution to waiting lists
Marc Janssens with the DBS-instruments he developed and a dummy head. Credit: Bart van Overbeeke

Deep-brain stimulation (DBS) can, among other things, alleviate uncontrolled movement and trembling in Parkinson's patients. However, the existing technology to place DBS electrodes in the brain is imprecise, so that only top specialists achieve a good success rate. Marc Janssens of Eindhoven University of Technology has therefore developed new instruments that brain surgeons with less experience with DBS can use to place the electrode with precision in the right place in the brain. This can help to shorten the waiting lists. Janssens receives his Ph.D. on 25 June.

In DBS, the surgeon places electrodes deep into the brain, through small openings at the top of the skull. The electrodes are connected to a pacemaker that delivers pulses, which virtually suppresses the uncontrolled movement and vibration of the limbs. The treatment makes a normal life possible for patients again. Unfortunately, as the largest Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported in February, waiting times are long, which led to parliamentary questions. In the Netherlands, the waiting period can be as long as two years, and in other countries, too, this is a similar problem.

Unchanged since 1990

The DBS electrodes in Parkinson's disease patients usually have to end up in the nucleus subthalamicus, a crucial part of the brain that measures only 8 by 4 millimeters. The greater part of it is focused on movements, but the edges control emotions and learning processes, among other things. Highly precise positioning is therefore essential. The bottleneck here is the current technique is to place the DBS, a technique that has not essentially changed since the invention of DBS in the 1990s.

Surgeons now still place DBS electrodes by clamping to the patient's head a construction that is actually too weak for that precise task. However, the greatest inaccuracy is caused by the fact that there is no fixed reference point for the placement of the electrodes. The doctors first localize the target in the brain with an MRI scan, and with a CT scan they then record the position of the skull in relation to the construction on the head, the stereotactic frame. These two images are placed over each other to see where the target is relative to the frame. This results in a margin of error that can be as high as a few millimeters, which is considerable in view of the small size of the target, the nucleus subthalamicus.

Fixed reference point

Marc Janssens developed an entirely new technique that is much more precise. The key role in this is played by the adaptor disc he developed, which gives the intervention a fixed reference point. This disc is placed on the back of the head using three surgical screws. This is much less unpleasant and less painful than the stereotactic frame, which is clamped to the head with four pins through the skin. The disc contains a reference triangle that is clearly visible on the MRI scan.

After the MRI scan, the patient goes to the new instrument that Janssens designed and built for the placement of the electrodes. The adapter disc, which is still attached to the head, is clicked onto it, so that the patient takes the fixed reference point with him. Its positioning device is extremely compact and rigid, allowing much higher precision than the conventional positioning arch. Combined with the fixed reference point, the procedure is expected to be accurate to one millimeter or less.

As a result, surgeons who do not often perform this procedure can still perform successful interventions. An additional advantage is that, in principle, patients no longer need to be conscious. In current practice, this is still necessary: the surgeon needs reactions from the patient to see if the electrodes are in the right place. The patient must therefore experience the unpleasant procedure from A to Z for some hours. With the new, high level of precision, the patient's feedback is no longer necessary, allowing him to undergo the operation quietly under anesthesia. All in all, this can significantly lower the threshold for the DBS interventions, so that this successful treatment can be made available to more .

With mechanical instruments where high precision is crucial, high-tech robotic solutions are quickly thought of. A special feature of Janssens' instruments is that they do not involve any electronics; they are completely manual. This craftsmanship makes the instrument particularly reliable, light, compact and relatively inexpensive. Eindhoven Medical Robotics intends to further develop the instrument and bring it to market.

Explore further: World's first intra-operative MRI-guided robot for bilateral stereotactic neurosurgery

Related Stories

World's first intra-operative MRI-guided robot for bilateral stereotactic neurosurgery

June 20, 2018
Stereotactic neurosurgery is one of the treatment to a variety of movement and neuropsychiatric disorders, such as Parkinson's disease (PD), essential tremor and major depression. It involves a technique that can locate targets ...

Robot reduces need for open brain surgery to map epileptic seizures

January 23, 2017
A minimally invasive robotic device is eliminating the need for some patients to undergo open brain surgery to pinpoint the origin of their epileptic seizures. The device, in use at Duke and a small handful of epilepsy centers ...

New technique for deep brain stimulation surgery proves accurate and safe

June 5, 2013
The surgeon who more than two decades ago pioneered deep brain stimulation surgery in the United States to treat people with Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders has now developed a new way to perform the surgery—which ...

New approach simplifies Parkinson's surgery

May 25, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics has become the second academic medical center in the country where neurosurgeons can perform deep-brain stimulation (DBS) in an intra-operative MRI (iMRI) suite.

Recommended for you

Surgical adhesions can be treated, prevented in mice

November 28, 2018
A cellular culprit—as well as a possible treatment—for a common, sometimes life-threating post-surgical complication has been identified by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Cost and weight-loss potential matter most to bariatric surgery patients

November 28, 2018
A JAMA Surgery study found that patients are likely to base their weight loss surgery choice on expected out-of-pocket costs, and how much weight they can lose—not risk of complications or recovery time.

Treating spinal pain with replacement discs made of 'engineered living tissue' moves closer to reality

November 21, 2018
For the first time, bioengineered spinal discs were successfully implanted and provided long-term function in the largest animal model ever evaluated for tissue-engineered disc replacement. A new Penn Medicine study published ...

Screening for colorectal cancer spares male patients from intense treatments

November 21, 2018
While screening for colorectal cancer does not reduce mortality, it does reduce the need for chemotherapy and emergency surgeries among male patients, according to a recent Finnish study.

Rapid response inpatient education boosts use of needed blood-thinning drugs

November 16, 2018
A new study designed to reach hospitalized patients at risk shows that a "real-time" educational conversation, video or leaflet can lower the missed dose rates of drugs that can prevent potentially lethal blood clots in their ...

Race plays role in regaining weight after gastric bypass surgery

November 15, 2018
African Americans and Hispanic Americans who have undergone Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYGB) are at greater risk to regain weight as compared to Caucasians. To date, no study has addressed the effect of race on weight regain ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.