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2:45am UK, Friday December 23, 2011
A woman who was disabled by relentless muscle jerks has been fitted with a ‘brain pacemaker’ that has allowed her to return to normal life.
Jayne Bargent’s head and neck were so badly affected by the uncontrollable convulsions of Tourette’s syndrome that she could not drive, read, or walk properly.
It is absolutely amazing. I do not feel I am the same person. I have had three years of getting worse. Now I have got my life back.
She is one of the first sufferers to be implanted with electrodes in her brain that fire tiny electric pulses into the region believed to cause the muscle tics.
Sky News exclusively filmed the extraordinary operation, and then – six weeks later – the moment the electrodes were switched on.
Over a period of about 40 minutes the tics almost completely disappeared.
She said: “It is absolutely amazing. I do not feel I am the same person. I have had three years of getting worse. Now I have got my life back.”
The technique is called Deep Brain Stimulation. It is already used to treat some other neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease.
But a team at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery now started using it as an experimental treatment for adults severely affected by Tourette’s.
Surgeons drilled holes in Jayne’s skull and then threaded two electrodes, each the width of a pencil lead, 8cm into her skull.
Electrical impulses spread a short distance into her brain tissue.
Consultant neurosurgeon Mr Ludwig Zrinzo said doctors do not know for sure how the technique works.
“What we think is happening is that there is some disorganised information travelling through circuits in the brain. We are dampening these messages and allowing other parts of the brain to take over,” he said.
Jayne Bargent says the treatment has transformed her life
The operation was carefully planned with MRI scans. Surgeons had to avoid critical areas of the brain. If they punctured a major blood vessel they could have caused a potentially catastrophic stroke.
Once the swelling from the operation had reduced Jayne returned to the hospital to have the electrodes switched on.
A pacemaker implanted under the skin of her chest controls the electrodes. By holding a device over the pacemaker, doctors can wirelessly set the strength and frequency of the electrical pulses.
Jayne’s response was remarkable.
Her head and neck became still, she stopped gasping for breath and her voice returned to normal.
Some tics still broke through, but consultant neurologist Dr Tom Foltynie expects continued improvement.
“We generally see effects over days rather than minutes,” he said.
“There are changes that occur in the brain in response to continuous delivery of stimulation that get better day by day, week by week.”
Dr Foltynie is running the first clinical trial of the procedure.
A dozen adults with severe Tourette’s will be fitted with the brain stimulator and then monitored over six months.
The syndrome affects around 300,000 people in Britain – but most only have minor muscle twitches and usually grow out of it.
For Jayne, the improvement is overwhelming.
“I couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life as I was.
“I would have considered going over to Switzerland to Dignitas (the suicide clinic) when it got to the stage where I just could not feel I could carry on.
“We will be able to go out again and go for walks.
“It will have a huge impact on our lives.”
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