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Brain regulation training could help Parkinson’s sufferers

09 November 2011

People experiencing the early signs of Parkinson’s disease could see their symptoms improved through a process of regulating and re-training how their brains respond to certain activities and actions, new Cardiff University research has found.

Experts from Cardiff University’s MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics & Genomics and School of Psychology, in a paper published in The Journal of Neuroscience, used real-time brain imaging to identify how people with Parkinson’s disease react to their own brain responses.

Scientists used a technique known as neurofeedback to monitor brain activity in an MRI scanner. The activity levels are then fed back to the patient in the form of a display on a screen.

Using this feedback, the study found that patients were able to learn to alter activity in specific parts of their brain.

"This is the first time that this neurofeedback technique has been used with patients with Parkinson’s disease," according to Professor David Linden from Cardiff University, who led the study, which was a collaboration between scientists and clinicians in Wales, London and the Netherlands.

"Self-regulation of brain activity in humans based on real-time feedback is emerging as a powerful technique. In this study we assessed whether patients with Parkinson’s disease are able to alter their brain activity to improve their motor function''.

"We found that the five patients who received neurofeedback were able to increase activity in brain networks important for movements and that this intervention resulted in an overall improvement in motor speed – in this case, finger tapping."

The study involved 10 patients, all with early stage Parkinson’s. The patients were divided into two groups – half the group received brain feedback and the other did not.

Whilst self-regulation using related techniques has been used in other conditions like ADHD, apart from a study on chronic pain the clinical potential of the technique for neurological disorders has not been explored.

Parkinson’s disease was considered a suitable target for the technique – and an opportunity to show that its use could help patients with neurogenerative disorders.

Professor Linden added: "Whilst this was a very small study the key aim was to establish whether this technique may be feasible for sufferers.

"The training resulted in clinically relevant improvement of motor functions – so assuming patients can learn to transfer the strategies used during neurofeedback into real-life settings, it might also become possible to sustain the clinical benefits."

The scientists now hope to take this method further in formal clinical trials in order to establish whether it holds promise for patients.

Professor Linden adds: "We have to be clear: this research won’t stop the progression of the disease nor should it offer sufferers false hope – but, it does have the potential to alter the course of motor symptoms and possibly reduce drug requirements in early disease.

"This may have the effect of delaying more severe motor complications and improve the quality of life of patients affected by Parkinson’s disease."

Notes to editor:

Real-time Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Neurofeedback for Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease was published in The Journal of Neuroscienceon the 9th November 2011. Embargo: 22.00, Tuesday 8th November, 2011

A copy of the paper is available, on request.

Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University President Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Three major new Research Institutes, offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places were announced by the University in 2010.

www.cardiff.ac.uk

Further information/media interviews are available by contacting:

Professor David Linden
MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics & Genomics,
Department of Psychological Medicine and Neurology,
School of Medicine

Cardiff University

Telephone: 02920687928

Mobile: 07769748307

E-mail: linden@cardiff.ac.uk

Or

Chris Jones

Public Relations

Cardiff University

Tel: 029 20 874731

E-mail: jonesc83@cardiff.ac.uk