Press release

University performs Scottish-first procedure to treat Parkinson’s tremors

Published on 26 June 2024

A life-changing procedure that can prevent uncontrolled tremors in Parkinson’s patients has been performed for the first time in Scotland.

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A team from the University of Dundee’s School of Medicine has successfully completed the country’s first ultrasound thalamotomy, a non-invasive operation that can allow people living with the disease to control their movements.

Ian Keir from Carnoustie says that he is now tremor-free having received the procedure earlier this month.

The 63-year-old was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2018 and said that the condition had slowly eroded his ability to perform everyday tasks. However, with his tremors having largely disappeared just moments after undergoing the operation, he says he is excited to have his independence back.

“It feels like a miracle,” said the retired firefighter.

“My tremor has completely gone - it’s as though I never had it. I’m now able to do exactly what I could before. I can pour a jug of water, my handwriting is back, and I’m now able to do things without thinking about them beforehand.

“My wife has been so strong for me these past few years, helping do things I was unable to do, but now I’m able to cut my own food, pour a glass of water. Anything at all.

“I was obviously nervous beforehand, but afterwards the improvement was almost immediate.

“While I’m aware this isn’t a cure for Parkinson’s, it is a cure for some of my symptoms. I’m so grateful and just want to make the most of every day.”

Uncontrollable tremors are one of the symptoms most associated with Parkinson’s disease, prompted by reduced levels of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Thalamotomy is a surgical procedure used to treat tremor by creating a lesion in a part of the brain known as the thalamus, which controls a person’s movements.

“It was probably two years before my diagnosis that I found I had a twitch in my finger,” continued Ian.

“It was very innocuous to start with, but I had no control over it. 

“When I was diagnosed it was actually a relief. It was better to know exactly what it was and I had a feeling from my research it was Parkinson’s.

“Over the years my tremors got significantly worse. It was incredibly frustrating trying to do everyday things. Making a cup of coffee meant the coffee invariably went all over the place. I had to learn to eat with just a fork as cutting food became very difficult. Thankfully my wife is very understanding and was a great support to me.

“My handwriting was pretty much illegible as well. The tremors affected my right hand, which I used for writing, but I never really mastered writing with my left hand.”

The Dundee team have performed 60 thalamotomies for patients living with Essential Tremor, but this is the first time a patient with Parkinson’s disease in Scotland has been treated. The team utilised the state-of-the-art Insightec Exablate system, which uses high-intensity focused ultrasound, allowing for incision-free treatment to be administered.

As one of the world’s leading centres for research into Parkinson’s disease, the University has utilised the technology to support clinical research trials. It was purchased with funds generously donated to a dedicated fundraising campaign.

This is the first treatment to take place in Scotland as part of an international, multicentre, clinical trial as thalamotomy using ultrasound is not currently available via the NHS for patients with Parkinson's disease.

Dr Tom Gilbertson, Consultant Neurologist and Honorary Senior Lecturer within Dundee’s School of Medicine, said, “This is a milestone moment for Scottish medicine.

“We have already witnessed the transformative impact that similar procedures have had for patients living with Essential Tremor, so to replicate that for those living with Parkinson’s – who may never have dreamed of having such control of their movements again – is a huge privilege.

“We are well versed in performing thalamotomy, having worked with Essential Tremor patients for several years now. However, we never fail to recognise the significance of what we are doing, and the life-changing impact it has on our patients.

“The University is recognised globally as a leader in Parkinson’s disease research and occasions such as this highlight the advances that are being made to help address this condition, which is one of the most pressing health challenges of our time.

“Ian is proof that research like that taking place here at the University is leading to advances capable of transforming the lives of Parkinson’s patients.”

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Jonathan Watson

Senior Press Officer

+44 (0)1382 381489