Image of Philip Starr, M.D., Ph.D.

Researchers now can wirelessly stream brain activity from patients with Parkinson’s disease as they go about their normal daily activities. That information can be used to better adjust the treatment delivered by an implanted deep brain stimulation device, they say.

Deep brain stimulation devices are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for managing Parkinson’s disease symptoms. They involve a thin wire implant, or electrode, that sends electrical signals into the brain. The devices usually are tested and adjusted in a clinical setting.

In the current study, researchers implanted a two-way neural interface for wireless, multichannel streaming in five people with Parkinson’s disease. They then tested the device remotely for up to 15 months after implantation.

“This is the first device that allows for continuous and direct wireless recording of the entire brain signal over many hours,” said implant developer Philip Starr, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues. “That means we are able to perform whole brain recording over a long period of time while people are going about their daily lives.”

The findings suggest the potential for a level of customized deep brain stimulation that previously was not achievable, the researchers said.

“Because we are able to build a biomarker library for each patient, we can now program each DBS unit according to a patient’s individual needs,” said the study’s first author, Ro’ee Gilron, Ph.D. “This includes personalized stimulation programs that adapt as the patient’s needs change throughout the day.”

“If you ever hope to use in-hospital recordings to modify a disease state through adaptive stimulation, you must show that they are also valid in the real world,” Starr added.

The new technology also will allow better connections between clinicians and patients who cannot easily attend an in-office appointment for various reasons, he said. 

One notable concern of some study participants is privacy, Starr acknowledged.

“Although we are not at the point where we can distinguish specific normal behaviors from brain activity recording, it is an absolutely legitimate concern,” Starr said. “We have told patients to feel free to remove their wearable devices and to turn off their brain recordings whenever they engage in activities they would like to keep private.”

Full findings were published in Nature Biotechnology.