A new dawn for Peter

Published on 5 August 2022

With your help, our neurosurgeons are performing incisionless surgery using an MRI-guided focused ultrasound scanner to eliminate essential tremor with life-changing results. Peter Airey shares with us his story of taking part in the clinical trial.

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Transforming lives is at the heart of everything we do, and we are unlikely to tell you a more transformative story than this. Our neurosurgeons are performing incisionless surgery using an MRI-guided focused ultrasound scanner to eliminate essential tremor with life-changing results. The revolutionary scanner is the first in Scotland and only second in the UK. We hope our remarkable results will inspire others to follow.

Peter Airey, who has lived with essential tremor for 25 years, is one of the clinical trial patients.

Portrait photo of Peter Airey
“Now, I can shave, use a mouse, take photographs and use binoculars, which I couldn’t do before because of my tremor.”

Peter Airey

"While I was in the MRI machine, I could actually see the procedure working and a progressive reduction in my tremor. That was so emotional seeing that. It was absolutely fantastic,” Peter exclaimed. “I had lunch in the hospital with my clinical team shortly after the procedure, and I could hold a cup without spilling my drink. I know it sounds like a bit of a cliché, but Tom Gilbertson and his team have changed my life."

Essential tremor is a chronic neurological condition that predominantly prompts involuntary movements in the hands and arms. Living with essential tremor can be very distressing. It can prevent day-to-day activities that are often taken for granted, like writing, eating or drinking from a cup.

"Now, I can shave, use a mouse, take photographs and use binoculars, which I couldn’t do before because of my tremor," Peter said.

Many people living with essential tremor also feel anxious and embarrassed in social situations, which only makes their tremor worse.

"For me, a surprise outcome of the treatment is a newfound confidence to attend big gatherings, which I would previously dread or avoid. Everything is exciting. It’s like a new dawn for me," Peter said with quiet contentment.

So far, twelve clinical trial patients have received treatment to one side of their brain using the MRI-guided focused ultrasound scanner.

Portrait photo of Tom Gilbertson
“This treatment can have a transformative effect on a person’s quality of life, and it is fantastic to be able to offer it to patients in Scotland.”

Dr Tom Gilbertson

"The scanner uses high-intensity focused soundwaves to provide incisionless brain surgery without damaging the surrounding tissue," Dr Tom Gilbertson explained.

“During the procedure, metal pins attached to patients’ heads provide short bursts of high-frequency soundwaves that target faulty electrical circuits in the brain. Each burst increases in intensity and patients are tested on their handwriting in-between. Amazingly, the handwriting tests show drastic improvement in real-time."

However, there’s more.

“Many people living with essential tremor become increasingly reliant on friends and family or take great care to avoid certain situations, which can drastically impact their quality of life. Within hours of receiving this ground-breaking treatment, clinical trial patients had restored control of movement that they may not have experienced for decades, offering the opportunity to regain their independence.

"Until the purchase of the University’s scanner, incisionless surgery was not available in Scotland, so it has transformed patients’ lives and revolutionised healthcare in Scotland. Now, there is a standard of care that is comparable with the best available anywhere in the world."

It is little surprise that the team has received a further 100 referrals from around Scotland since May 2021.

Incisionless surgery also offers patients an innovative, non-invasive approach, which is preferable for many people.

"Until now, the most common treatment for essential tremor was Deep Brain Stimulation, an invasive surgical procedure involving implanting electrodes within certain areas of the brain. Unfortunately, not all patients are fit enough for the risks involved with this procedure. In comparison, MRI-guided focused ultrasound treatment only takes a couple of hours. It is performed as a day procedure, which means there is no need for anaesthesia or a hospital stay. As incisionless surgery is minimally-invasive, it does not carry added concerns like surgical wound healing or infection."

So, what’s next?

“My team and I are planning a clinical trial that will use the scanner to treat both sides of the brain, which we hope to start at the end of 2022, subject to necessary approvals. I have also been awarded funding for a fellowship that will bring an outstanding early career researcher to focus on minimally invasive neurological surgery at the University of Dundee.

"Initial research also suggests that incisionless surgery may also have a role in treating the tremor-related symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The first patients in the UK with Parkinson’s are expected to receive this treatment as part of a multicentre international clinical trial in 2022, subject to successful funding and ethical approval."

But that’s not all. The new scanner is a powerful tool that could see new areas of research emerging at the University. It can be used to deliver drugs to the brain with the potential for targeted chemotherapy or immune therapies in neurodegenerative diseases. Research also indicates that the scanner could help treat breast, prostate and brain tumours and various neurological conditions. With such promising potential, incisionless surgery using focussed ultrasound could transform the lives of many more people to come.

Our campaign

Incisionless surgery is now available in Scotland thanks to our community of donors, who came together to raise the £2 million needed to purchase the MRI-guided focused ultrasound scanner. Without the generous donations from trusts and foundations, individuals, and the kindness of those who left a legacy, this truly life-changing treatment would not have been possible.