New MRI unit to offer 'miracle' treatment for patients with essential tremor

04 December 2020

New MRI unit to offer 'miracle' treatment for patients with essential tremor
Many more patients living with essential tremor will soon be able to access a pioneering “miracle” treatment at St Mary’s Hospital, thanks to support from Imperial Health Charity.

The technique involves using a powerful MRI scanner to target focused ultrasound waves at damaged areas of the brain and has already been shown to dramatically reduce the severity of patients’ tremors.

Clinicians at St Mary’s have so far treated a small number of patients for research purposes but from next year brain focused ultrasound will be funded centrally by NHS England – meaning the treatment will be available to many more people affected by the condition.

In 2017 we funded a £1.1 million MRI machine for the first clinical trial at St Mary’s and awarded a further £1.6 million through our Tremor Lifeline Appeal to cover the cost of an additional scanner and refurbishment of the hospital’s Acute Imaging Centre.

The new and improved unit will be open and ready for more patients when the treatment is made available on the NHS from April 2021. St Mary’s is currently the only centre in the UK offering brain focused ultrasound for this condition.

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"This treatment is as close as you can get to a medical miracle"

Professor Wladyslaw Gedroyc

Professor Wladyslaw Gedroyc, Consultant Radiologist at St Mary’s, said the technique was “as close as you can get to a medical miracle”.

“Essential tremor is an incredibly debilitating condition that can dramatically affect a person’s quality of life,” he said.

“But with this fantastic new facility and our additional scanner, we will be able to offer MRI-guided focused ultrasound treatment to many more patients from next year.

“We are extremely grateful to the charity for their continued support of this ground-breaking treatment, which will offer hope to many people affected by this terrible condition.”

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How does the treatment work?

Essential tremor is a brain disorder characterised by uncontrollable shaking in a part of the body, which can make everyday tasks such as typing on a keyboard or using a knife and fork almost impossible. The condition affects over 1 million people in the UK, with around 250,000 severely disabled as a result.

Current treatments include drug therapies, surgery and deep brain stimulation – where electrodes are placed in the brain. However, the effectiveness of these treatments is limited and some carry significant risks and side effects.

The new focused ultrasound treatment can be carried out without the need for invasive surgery. It involves using a powerful MRI machine to focus ultrasound waves on a specific area of brain tissue. At that point, molecules are vibrated extremely quickly, which creates intense heat to destroy only the targeted tissue and break the abnormal electrical circuits causing the tremor.

So far only 32 patients have been treated at St Mary’s but clinicians have reported huge reductions in the severity of patients’ tremor – in some cases as much as 85%. Thanks to these improved facilities, the hospital aims to treat around 100 essential tremor patients in the new unit in 2021/22.

"It's been life-changing" - watch Dinesh's story

Dinesh Kotecha was among the first patients to benefit from the focused ultrasound treatment at St Mary's. Watch the video below, filmed in 2018, to see how the treatment helped reduce Dinesh's tremor almost immediately.