DBS visualisation software: a new era for Parkinson’s disease treatment?


sponsored by Boston Scientific

Author: Jason SinclairPublished: 21 October 2021

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Visualisation software Guide-XT from Boston Scientific.

Three experts share how deep brain stimulation (DBS) visualisation software is revolutionising treatment for people with Parkinson’s disease

Deep brain stimulation is an established treatment for people with Parkinson’s disease, but industry experts think that its fast evolution has led to an information gap. This means that those who may benefit from the technology may not be aware of all the latest innovations – and how these new developments in the field could be of benefit to themselves, friends or family members.

DBS treatment involves the placement of two electrodes into the brain, which then deliver electrical impulses through a connected stimulator. Targeting specific regions of the brain, the impulses can improve Parkinson’s symptoms by blocking certain signals and helping to improve uncontrolled muscle movements.

Professor Jens Volkmann, who heads a team at the University of Würzburg, Germany, says: “The impact of DBS is all about location”. That’s why, when it comes to placing these electrodes, clear visualisation of the tech’s inner workings could offer a step forward in Parkinson’s treatment.

Older versions of programming software offered limited information on the location of simulated DBS leads. But working with new software, like Boston Scientific’s new GUIDE-XT – which uses information from individual patient MRI and CT scans to create a 3D visualisation of the leads in relation to the brain – has helped neurologists like Professor Volkmann to improve quality control and reduce the time required for programming.

In fact, says his fellow researcher Dr Martin Reich, “Visualisation software will change the way we programme patients in the future”.

Older versions featured a representation of the leads but no other information to help neurologists.

Visualising the benefits of DBS

Discussing the potential benefits of DBS visualisation, Professor Volkmann says: “In a way, it is like GPS or Google Maps: it helps us to orient ourselves in 3D space”.

Patient-specific ‘maps’ highlight the targeted area for stimulation, as well as surrounding anatomy – without which healthcare professionals rely on trial and error to locate the best electrode location for each patient.

“You need to know exactly which few cubic millimetres of tissue in a certain area need to be stimulated, to produce the best possible effects and to avoid adverse effects,” says Professor Volkmann. “The visualisation software is helping us to track the areas that are influenced by a certain electrical field.”

He adds that the software means that the time spent “troubleshooting” in the clinic is reduced.

“In the past, I needed to test patients,” says Dr Philipp Capetian, senior consultant and head of the university’s DBS outpatient clinic. “You would programme what you thought you needed and wait. But now you really know where the electrodes are located, and you can simulate the currents and see the field you can achieve with stimulation. You know your target structure, the electrodes in relation to that and where your contact is located.”

Making an “educated choice”

Some people with Parkinson’s may be hesitant about DBS. Not only is it a surgical procedure, but it could also lead to adverse effects if electrodes are not positioned optimally in the brain or programmed effectively.

But with new developments in the field, many people with Parkinson’s can approach DBS with greater confidence. For Dr Reich and some of his patients, this could be a “game-changer”.

Left to right: Dr Capetian, Professor Volkmann and Dr Reich.

“Let’s say a patient with Parkinson’s disease has gait-freezing,” adds Professor Volkmann. “The first thing we want to know is where the electrode is located. Is it on target? Are we overstimulating the target? Before we had visual programming, we would do a blind flight – changing parameters following certain clinical algorithms, trying different options for two or three weeks.

“We can accelerate that now. We can look at the images and make an educated choice. That is the big difference – this is much more likely to get to a good clinical solution, in a much shorter time.

“We have patients now who have had DBS for years and have particular problems. We can perform an image-based review of their electrode position and programming options, and continue to come up with improvements.”

“An era of digital revolution”

Data gathered through the DBS process could also help patients in the future, says Dr Reich. The hope is that artificial intelligence approaches – “collecting many already-operated patients and analysing them” – will help inform settings used for individual patients in programming.

Professor Volkmann agrees: “We are in an era of digital revolution. Once we have the data available, the visualisation software will allow us to pool data from different centres because we have a common reference.

“That could be a very interesting approach for image analysis. You learn on an individual basis from the one patient in your big database and compare this to the patient that you are currently programming.”

A clearer picture of the needs that exist for people with Parkinson’s could then help to inform treatment – and offer more personalised care in the future.

Lead image: Visualisation software Guide-XT from Boston Scientific, which uses 3D-imaging of patient-specific anatomy to help with programming.

This article is sponsored by Boston Scientific. The information in this article is given for information purposes only and does not represent an endorsement by Parkinson’s Europe of any particular treatments, products or companies. This article is not a substitute for advice from your doctor, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. Parkinson’s Life makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness or accuracy of information provided.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: These materials are intended to describe common clinical considerations and procedural steps for the use of referenced technologies but may not be appropriate for every patient or case. Decisions surrounding patient care depend on the physician’s professional judgment in consideration of all available information for the individual case.

Boston Scientific does not promote or encourage the use of its devices outside their approved labeling. Case studies are not necessarily representative of clinical outcomes in all cases as individual results may vary.

CAUTION: The law restricts these devices to sale by or on the order of a physician. Indications, contraindications, warnings and instructions for use can be found in the product labelling supplied with each device. Products may not be approved or for sale in certain countries. This material not intended for use in France.

Read more:

“Finding a DBS system to fit the needs of individual patients is crucial”

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