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VCU Medical Center Surgeons Use Deep Brain Stimulation to Treat Movement Disorder Caused by Rare Pediatric Condition

A deep brain stimulator that Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center doctors implanted this summer in the brain of a 7-year old girl who has been wracked with disabling body spasms since infancy is giving her parents and physicians reason to be hopeful the therapy might work.

Richmond, VA (Vocus) October 15, 2009 -- A deep brain stimulator that Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center doctors implanted this summer in the brain of a 7-year old girl who has been wracked with disabling body spasms since infancy is giving her parents and physicians reason to be hopeful the therapy might work.

During a recent follow-up visit with neurosurgeon, Kathryn Holloway, M.D., Lexi Haas showed small signs the stimulator is functioning as intended by disrupting the abnormal signals causing her erratic body movements and stiffened muscles – a condition called dystonia which is a movement disorder like torticollis, essential tremor, and Parkinson’s disease.

Lexi, who lives with her family in North Carolina, is unable to walk and speak but communicates with her parents and siblings through eye and tongue movements.

Since the stimulator was activated, Lexi’s muscles have relaxed and she has been able to perform simple movements like touching her head and face – even holding objects – something she wasn’t able to do before.

Holloway along with a team of doctors implanted the stimulator in July and activated it five weeks later.

The procedure is believed to be the first documented use of deep brain stimulation in a patient definitively diagnosed with kernicterus – a rare type of brain damage caused by untreated jaundice at birth. The resulting brain damage caused Lexi’s dystonia.

“This little girl has been trapped in her body for seven years. If we can provide some relief for her and enable her to live a more normal life, it will be tremendous,” said Steven Shapiro, M.D., a pediatric neurologist at the VCU Medical Center, who has been treating Lexi since 2004 and conducting kernicterus research for more than 25 years. “These initial signs are encouraging but she still has a long way to go.”

During the surgical procedure to implant the stimulator, Holloway and a team of neurologists guided tiny electrodes into Lexi’s brain to the site where the abnormal signals causing her stiffness and uncontrollable movements originate. During a second procedure, the electrodes were connected to a stimulator.

“The entire medical team has been inspired by Lexi's courage and the courage and love of her family and we were not going to quit until we have done the absolute best we can do for Lexi,” Holloway said. “The full benefit of the stimulator may not be realized for sometime and we’re all looking forward to seeing how she progresses over the next six months.”

Deep brain stimulation has been used for years with good success to treat Parkinson’s disease, dystonia and other genetic movement disorders. Doctors are unsure how Lexi will progress since her dystonia resulted from brain damage.

Jaundice results from a build up of bilirubin – a toxin created during the normal process of red blood cells breaking down and dying. Under normal circumstances, bilirubin is processed by the liver and eliminated. But because a newborn's liver is still immature, the enzyme that converts bilirubin to a non-toxic substance sometimes does not begin functioning immediately, which can cause bilirubin levels to rise in the body. Left untreated, very high levels of bilirubin – called hyperbilirubinemia – can damage parts of the brain resulting in kernicterus.

A routine, inexpensive test for excessive jaundice is a standard practice in most newborn care.

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About the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center
The Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center is one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers and stands alone as the most comprehensive academic medical center in Central Virginia. The medical center includes the 780-bed MCV Hospitals and outpatient clinics, MCV Physicians -- a 600-physician-faculty group practice, and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University. The VCU Medical Center, through its VCU Health System, offers state-of-the-art care in more than 200 specialty areas, many of national and international note, including organ transplantation, head and spinal cord trauma, burn healing and cancer treatment. The VCU Medical Center is the site for the region’s only Level 1 Trauma Center. As a leader in healthcare research, the VCU Medical Center offers patients the opportunity to choose to participate in programs that advance evolving treatment, such as those sponsored by the National Cancer Institute through VCU’s Massey Cancer Center, Virginia’s first NCI-designated cancer center. The VCU Medical Center’s academic mission is supported by VCU’s health sciences schools of medicine, allied health, dentistry, pharmacy and nursing.


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