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Deep brain stimulation research expands at Barrow

St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center's Barrow Neurological Institute has received a $10.1 million donation, the largest single gift in the organization's history and one of the biggest ever given to any Arizona hospital. The one-time cash donation from philanthropist Marian H. Rochelle to St. Joseph's Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix will be used to explore a new medical frontier for psychiatric and motor disorders by using novel treatments including advanced "deep brain stimulation."

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) has previously been used almost exclusively for patients with movement disorders. The new Barrow center, called the Barrow Center for Neuromodulation, will expand its use, as well as the use of other technologies, to treat patients with a number of neurological and behavioral conditions such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, epilepsy, Tourette syndrome, addictions, autism and chronic pain.

"I have grown to appreciate all that Barrow does for patients in Arizona and around the world. This is truly a gem among neuroscience centers, and I am proud to support it," says Rochelle, whose late husband was treated at Barrow for Alzheimer's disease. "Each of us can play a role in making the new Barrow Center for Neuromodulation a beacon of hope for people with devastating neurological disorders. The doctors, nurses and scientists will give of their education, experience and skill, while we benefactors will give of the resources with which we are so richly blessed. I hope others will join me in supporting this amazing endeavor. Time is of the essence."

The new center will be located inside Barrow and will include neurosurgeons, neurologists, psychiatrists and clinical and basic researchers.

"This donation will help insure that Barrow continues as a global leader in the neurosciences," says Barrow Director Robert Spetzler, MD. "This gift will advance our understanding of the brain's pathways and their abnormal connections in patients who have movement and psychiatric disorders. There also exists the tantalizing prospect that with deep brain stimulators these abnormal pathways can be made to function in a more normal manner. This has the potential to make a dramatic difference in the lives of these patients. The Barrow Neurological Institute will be one of a small handful of medical institutions worldwide that are doing serious research to improve the lives of these patients with neuromodulation."

Deep brain stimulation involves the implantation of an electrode deep to a target area deep within the brain that is associated with a disorder. A pacemaker then sends electrical signals to the brain, alleviating symptoms. While DBS is the cornerstone of the new Barrow center, other neuromodulation therapies including transcranial magnetic stimulation and low frequency ultrasonic therapy will also be developed.

Since 1995 when DBS became available as a treatment for movement disorders, more than 80,000 people have been implanted with a deep brain stimulation device. Barrow currently conducts about 75 deep brain stimulation surgeries a year on Parkinson's patients. One of the early focuses of the new center will be use of DBS for patients with treatment-resistant depression. Barrow has already launched a research trial that will advance deep brain stimulation as a treatment for depression. (see attached sidebar)

Francisco Ponce, MD, is director of the center. A Barrow-trained neurosurgeon, Dr. Ponce received sub-specialty training in functional neurosurgery at the University of Toronto. Following his undergraduate studies at Harvard, he pursued graduate work in materials science at the University of Oxford before earning his medical degree from the University of Chicago in 2004.

"This is one of the most exciting and promising areas of modern medicine. Through neuromodulation, we can improve and restore function in patients in a manner that is reversible, adjustable and safe," says Dr. Ponce. "This center will combine the strengths of multiple disciplines, enabling our team to develop and implement new treatments for patients for whom current therapies fall short."


Contact: Lynne Reaves
St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center

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