Dr Wes Thevathasan

Episode 4 of the new ABC series Keeping Australia Alive follows patient ‘Danny’ who is about to undergo deep brain stimulation surgery to deliver targeted electrical impulses to the brain to treat his symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The recently broadcast Keeping Australia Alive episode on the ABC included Danny’s story and his deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

DBS surgery involves implanting electrodes into both sides of the brain and a battery that powers the stimulator is implanted below the collarbone in the chest. The surgery requires a high level of precision with pinpoint accuracy from his neurosurgeon, while his neurologist Dr Wes Thevathasan, navigates the procedure; he works out the trajectory and the target of the electrodes that are implanted in the brain.

Dr Thevathasan currently holds an NHMRC research fellowship and project grant to advance the effectiveness of deep brain stimulation with the Bionics Institute.

Danny, who has early onset Parkinson’s disease at the age of 53, is undergoing four hours of surgery at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and is awake throughout the procedure. Surprisingly, following the operation he tells the medical staff he would much rather go through the DBS surgery than a visit to the dentist.

Parkinson’s disease currently affects an estimated 10 million people worldwide and 70,000 people in Australia. For some of these patients where medication is not effective, DBS therapy may be an alternative option.

The DBS devices currently available are usually effective, but there is great need for improvements over the current technology. The Bionics Institute is now applying a new approach based on our extensive experience in the development of bionic devices.

Our advanced electrode arrays will incorporate more stimulation contacts, will be more flexible to minimise trauma during implantation, and will be smaller and hence easier to insert and position.  Furthermore, they will contain specialised contacts that enable recording of brain activity continuously after implantation.  This monitoring feature will allow automatic adjustment of stimulation to suit a patient’s symptom state; that is, it will be able to adapt to a patient’s needs.

Keeping Australia Alive Series 1, Episode 4, Love and Sacrifice,
ABC Broadcast, 8:30pm Tue 5 Apr 2016. Danny’s story starts at 
8 min 38 sec (8:38).