SCI Institute

The SCI Institute at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City is treating patients with Parkinson’s Disease and movement disorders who have implanted pacemakers through the use of iPad apps.


The SCI Institute at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City is treating patients with Parkinson's disease and movement disorders who have implanted pacemakers through the use of iPad apps.

Here's the story.


I would take parts of these pills every three hours, and when I'd take them, basically, I'd be on the medication for 2 1/2 hours.

The last half an hour, I'd be off so that I went from perfectly fine to the point where I couldn't hardly move, and I had the shakes.

I was pretty much at the end of my ropes.

My depression was really bad because, for one thing, I was maxed out on my medication.

I came in here to the University of Utah.

I was interviewed by a number of folks on the team, and I had the surgeries through May and about August of 2015.

Deep brain stimulation is a treatment offered for patients with movement disorders and some other neurological conditions in which we place electrodes inside the patient's brain which is attached to a type of pacemaker that is implanted in their chest and that delivers electrical stimulation to help treat the problems that they have, such as Parkinson's disease, tremor, dystonia, and other neurological problems.

About four months, I had to come once a month, one to two hours each visit, and then after that, I come about every three months, and it's about an hour visit.

Since we have to come about 32 miles to get here -- it takes about an hour one way -- it would take a lot of stress off of us.

And since we have a University of Utah clinic right there within about five minutes of our house, and if the doctor there knew how to do it, boy, we could save about half a day each time we come in here, which is every three months now.

After the patients are implanted, they have to come back several times to meet with the neurologist who will do the programming of the device, which should be very tailored for the patient.

So, it's rare to find this technology and this resource in some areas.

So, the SCI Institute is working in developing ways to make both physicians' and patients' lives easier.

They built a computational model in an iPad that the clinician can use in the clinic, and you can estimate the area that you are going to stimulate and where the current is spreading and how much energy you need to provide the benefit to the patient.

That makes the programming much shorter because you don't need to use a trial-and-error approach, trying every possible different setting.

You can actually estimate which setting would be appropriate just based on the feedback from that imaging.

In addition to that, these can be used remotely so that the patients don't need to go so many times to the clinic.

You can estimate the setting before, and this can be applied by a nurse or someone that doesn't have the same background training in deep brain stimulation.

If you're a patient who lives in rural areas or many hours away and you get DBS therapy, with the type of care that we can provide right now, those patients and their families are signing up to travel to an academic medical center for the rest of their life, and we think this has a huge effect on patient quality of life.

And so one of the things we've been doing is exploring whether we can create a care model where patients can stay at home but still get expert management from their doctors at major academic medical centers.

Till recently, physicians have not had the way to see the effects of DBS in an individual subject, so, using these interactive visualizations, a physician can look at a model of that patient's brain and change the stimulation settings the same way they would in the patient and get immediate feedback on those effects.

This type of modeling, for a long time, was taking a tremendous amount of time to produce.

We wanted to drastically speed up that process and just make it much more interactive.

The application that we built to do this actually does this by using supercomputers here at the SCI Institute.

If one of our physician colleagues is looking at a patient model on their iPad and they want to change the settings, that's packaged up as a request, it's sent to the SCI Institute, these computations are done in near real time and delivered back to them, and then they can see the results, usually in about 1 to 15 seconds.

Deep brain stimulation is not for everybody with Parkinson's disease and not for everybody with movement disorders.

Most patients with these conditions tend to respond extremely well to medication therapies.

However, about 10% to 15% of the patients start to have some degree of complications independent of their medical treatment, and that's when they become candidates for deep brain stimulation.

Deep brain stimulation surgery has been like a miracle in my life.

Since that, I feel like a normal human being again.