A life-changing device for people with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders is being created at Boston Scientific Clonmel in County Tipperary.
Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) involves implanting electrodes in certain areas of the brain. The treatment comprises of a stimulator or implantable pulse generator (IPG) being surgically inserted under the skin, usually just below the collarbone. The IPG produces small electrical signals which pass along fine wires - known as leads - positioned in the subthalamic nucleus, a small lens-shaped nucleus in the brain.
Boston Scientific Clonmel is the only site within the Boston Scientific network that manufactures neuromodulation IPGs, as per the ones used in DBS. More than 5,000 DBS devices are made in Clonmel every year by a team of up to 130 people. These DBS devices are also used to treat other neurological conditions including essential tremor, dystonia, epilepsy, Tourette syndrome, chronic pain and obsessive compulsive disorder.
“Movement disorders associated with Parkinson’s disease, dystonia and essential tremor can significantly impair daily living and the quality of life of those affected. There is no cure for movement disorders but their symptoms can be managed. In many patients, control of symptoms by medications diminishes with time,” a Boston Scientific spokesperson tells Waterford Live.
“However, more than 120,000 people worldwide have already benefited from DBS, a brain stimulator that helps regulate neural signaling in the brain. Essentially, DBS is an implant in someone’s brain by a neurologist. When the stimulation is switched on it helps with the tremors and shaking. DBS can have a hugely positive impact on the lives of people with conditions like Parkinson’s disease,” the spokesperson continues.
The facility in Clonmel also manufactures the printed circuit board, electronic module and battery assemblies for the IPGs, in addition to the sterile packaging, finished product packaging and labelling, and the sterilisation and distribution of the devices.
Tony Ryan from Newport in County Tipperary was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 32 and has been living with the chronic neurological condition the past 30 years.
“Tony wasn’t so much affected by the tremors. His biggest problem was muscle stiffness, which seriously affected his speech and walking,” his wife Mary says.
Before Tony underwent DBS surgery, his Parkinson’s was progressing and he was having to take up to 40 tablets a day. "The amount of medication was starting to make him more unwell and causing him to feel very sick. It was at this point our specialist started talking to us about DBS, which we had been told about previously, but at this stage it was felt that Tony was a good candidate for the surgery,” Mary continues.
Following a three day assessment, Tony underwent surgery and DBS has since completely changed his life. “He has an optimistic frame of mind and with this and his stamina and ability to just get on with things, the doctors thought the DBS would work very well for him. So in January 2011 he had the DBS operation.
“Our abiding memory of this time is that Tony had the operation on the Wednesday and on Friday the stimulation was turned on. It was remarkable! Tony was able to walk up and down the corridor with no stiffness - it was incredible! We were home 10 days later and although the stimulation settings have needed some adjustments from time to time, we’ve really never looked back. Tony is on half the medication he was on and we really are so grateful that he was able to have the DBS surgery,” Mary adds.
The video above shows a patient benefiting from DBS.