Researchers find sources of four brain disorders, which could lead to new treatments

0
16

Join Fox News for access to this content

Plus special access to select articles and other premium content with your account – free of charge.

Please enter a valid email address.

Researchers may have found a new way to target the sources of certain brain disorders.

In a study led by scientists at Mass General Brigham, deep brain stimulation (DBS) was able to pinpoint dysfunctions in the brain that are responsible for four cognitive disorders: Parkinson’s disease, dystonia (a muscle disorder condition that causes repetitive or twisting movements), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and Tourette’s syndrome.

The discovery, published in Nature Neuroscience on Feb. 22, could potentially help doctors determine new treatments for these disorders.

BOOST BRAIN HEALTH AND SLOW MENTAL AGING WITH 10 INTRIGUING TIPS FROM LONGEVITY EXPERTS

The study included 261 patients worldwide — 70 had dystonia, 127 were Parkinson’s disease patients, 50 had been diagnosed with OCD and 14 had Tourette’s syndrome.

The researchers implanted electrodes into the brains of each participant and used special software to determine which brain circuits were dysfunctional in each of the four disorders.

Woman brain electrodes

Deep brain stimulation has been used to pinpoint dysfunctions in the brain that are responsible for four cognitive disorders. (iStock)

“In simplified terms, when brain circuits become dysfunctional, they may act as brakes for the specific brain functions that the circuit usually carries out,” Andreas Horn, M.D., PhD, associate professor of neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in a press release. 

“Applying DBS may release the brake and may in part restore functionality.”

WORST FOODS AND DRINKS FOR BRAIN HEALTH, ACCORDING TO NUTRITION EXPERTS

Horn, one of the 39 researchers from 16 institutions who co-authored the study, went into more detail in a conversation with Fox News Digital.

“Based on the present findings, we can better understand why deep stimulation to a small subcortical structure in the brain has been helping patients with various disorders,” he said.

Man brain electrodes

The researchers implanted electrodes into the brains of each participant (not pictured) and used special software to determine which brain circuits were dysfunctional in each of the four disorders. (iStock)

For each of the disorders, a different brain network was identified as “dysfunctional,” leading to the condition, the doctor said.

“Identifying these ‘malfunctioning networks’ may help us better understand the four disorders and better target neuromodulation to help patients by alleviating symptoms,” he noted.

IS PARKINSON’S DISEASE, ‘WORLD’S FASTEST GROWING BRAIN DISEASE,’ MOSTLY PREVENTABLE? STUDY OFFERS CLUES

In three cases, the researchers found that applying DBS led to “preliminary improved results.”

At Massachusetts General Hospital, one female patient in her early 20s was diagnosed with severe, treatment-resistant OCD. 

After receiving electrode implantation and targeted stimulation, the researchers measured a “significant improvement” in her symptoms one month after treatment, according to the release.

Woman mental health

Obsessive-compulsive disorder was one of the cognitive conditions targeted in the new study. (iStock)

Dr. Shannon Dean, a pediatric neurologist with the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Maryland, was not involved in the study but shared her reaction to the findings.

“This study is an elegant demonstration of how treatment-focused and basic mechanism-based research can help guide each other,” she told Fox News Digital.

“The authors used deep brain stimulation electrodes, which is an invasive surgical treatment for a variety of neurological disorders when medications alone are not enough,” Dean went on. 

DEPRESSION COULD BE ‘ZAPPED’ AWAY WITH BRAIN STIMULATION, NEW STUDY SUGGESTS: ‘BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE’

“I was interested to see the researchers then used their findings to refine exactly how they were treating several patients — and saw their patients’ symptoms improve as a result,” she said. 

Given the small number of participants, Dean stressed the need for caution in interpreting the results. 

“What the authors found for those disorders will need to be replicated for us to be sure the conclusions are right,” she said. 

“However, what they have found is exciting and makes sense based on what we already know about these disorders. This points us to where future studies should be looking.”

Brain scan

For each of the disorders, a different brain network was identified as “dysfunctional,” leading to the condition, a researcher said. (iStock)

“This research provides hope for people living with these diseases who are resistant to standard medical therapy,” she added.

Dr. Arif Dalvi, a neurologist on staff at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Florida, also commented on the study as an outside expert.

“Even though deep brain stimulation has been part of the standard of care for neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and tremors for decades, the technology continues to evolve,” he told Fox News Digital. 

“This research provides hope for people living with these diseases who are resistant to standard medical therapy.”

“This analysis identified ‘sweet spots’ within these circuits that could significantly alleviate symptoms, demonstrating the efficacy of DBS in modulating neural activity.”

The findings highlight the need for personalized therapies, Dalvi noted.

“This emphasizes a need for neurologists to carefully evaluate each patient as a unique individual and tailor a specific treatment plan, rather than working off generic best practices or therapeutic guidelines,” he said.

Study was limited, researchers say

This research is seen as the first step in what will be a long process, Horn said.

“The study is based on retrospective data — main results should be confirmed by prospective trials, which represent the gold standard to accumulate evidence in science and medicine,” he told Fox News Digital.

AI dementia model

Developing more sophisticated mapping techniques and understanding the long-term effects of deep brain stimulation will be crucial, a neurologist said. (iStock)

The study’s sample size was also relatively small, he said, especially for Tourette’s.

“Even globally, not many patients have undergone deep brain stimulation surgery for this disorder,” Horn said.

This study is the first step in defining what the researchers call the “human dysfunctome,” the set of connections that may become dysfunctional in specific neurological or psychiatric disorders of the human brain.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR OUR HEALTH NEWSLETTER

“We first paint a picture of the dysfunctome, but need additional data to complete the picture and map other symptoms onto the circuits of the human brain,” Horn said.

While the study findings might not lead to drastic changes just yet, Horn said they may help experienced clinicians fine-tune their approaches to neurology treatments.

Dementia doctor with patient

The findings from this study point in the direction of more personalized cognitive therapies, experts said.  (iStock)

“It could give additional clarity or small refinements here and there to make interventions more successful,” Horn said. “However, the information should not be followed blindly, but instead should be validated in prospective studies.”

The researchers are already starting to plan for clinical trials to validate the results.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP

As Dalvi pointed out, developing more sophisticated mapping techniques and understanding the long-term effects of deep brain stimulation will be crucial. 

“Additionally, expanding this approach to other brain regions and disorders could uncover new therapeutic avenues, marking a new era in the treatment of neurological conditions,” he added.

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.