There is no cure for Parkinson's disease. When symptoms grow severe, doctors usually prescribe levodopa (L-dopa), which helps replace the brain's dopamine (the cause of involuntary movements is due to the decreased dopamine levels). In patients who are very severely affected, a kind of brain surgery known as pallidotomy has reportedly been effective in reducing symptoms. Another kind of brain surgery, in which healthy dopamine-producing tissue is transplanted into the brain, is also being tested.
Gene therapy offers great potential for PD and many other brain disorders. With this type of therapy, viruses are engineered to deliver genes that increase the supply of dopamine, prevent cell death, or promote regeneration of neurons.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical procedure used to treat a variety of disabling neurological symptoms—most commonly the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD), such as tremor, rigidity, stiffness, slowed movement, and walking problems. The procedure is also used to treat essential tremor, a common neurological movement disorder. At present, the procedure is used only for patients whose symptoms cannot be adequately controlled with medications.
DBS uses a surgically implanted, battery-operated medical device called a neurostimulator—similar to a heart pacemaker and approximately the size of a stopwatch—to deliver electrical stimulation to targeted areas in the brain that control movement, blocking the abnormal nerve signals that cause tremor and PD symptoms.
Some people are not able to undergo deep brain stimulation surgery to alleviate their Parkinson’s disease symptoms. For these people, a non-invasive surgical approach — like gamma knife surgery — might be beneficial. While gamma knife is not as effective as deep brain stimulation, it does offer another treatment option for some patients. The gamma knife is a machine that emits hundreds of powerful, highly focused gamma radiation beams. The gamma knife allows for a more precise and concentrated treatment than do other radiation treatment options. This helps the doctors target the diseased area of the brain while sparing the surrounding healthy areas. Gamma knife treatment has up to a 70 percent to 90 percent success rate, which depends on the patient and the disorder for which he or she is being treated.