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Medical and Surgical Directors Appointed for University of Utah Deep Brain Stimulation Program

SALT LAKE CITY – In a move that signifies the evolution of the University of Utah Movement Disorders Program into a major referral center for the care of individuals with Parkinson’s Disease, Dystonia, Essential Tremor and other movement disorders, the University announced that Lauren Schrock, MD, has been appointed Medical Director of the Deep Brain Stimulation Program. Paul House, MD, Neurosurgeon, has been appointed Surgical Director. Both are newly created positions recognizing the long-established collaboration of the two specialists.

As medical and surgical directors, Drs. Schrock and House will work together to guide the program’s growth and development. Part of the University’s Clinical Neurosciences Center, the Deep Brain Stimulation Program provides comprehensive care for patients with Parkinson’s Disease, Tremor, Dystonia who are possible candidates for DBS as well as providing ongoing care for patients who have DBS.

“The DBS program at the University of Utah has some of the best outcomes of any center in the nation”, said Stefan-M. Pulst, MD, Dr med, Chair of the U’s Department of Neurology. “The number of DBS patients we care for has more than doubled over the past two years – both from initial diagnosis and evaluation as well as patients who have been referred here for secondary expert consultation for those patients whose DBS device was implanted elsewhere but failed to be effective.”

“We are lucky to have the only fellowship-trained experts in DBS in the region here at the University of Utah”, said Richard Shumway, Director of the University’s Clinical Neurosciences Center. “With their leadership in these roles and continued support from the University, we are working to create one of the top DBS centers in the nation here in Salt Lake City.”

“Dr. House is the most highly qualified neurosurgeon in the region in functional and stereotactic neurosurgery”, continued Pulst. “Both he and Dr. Schrock trained at one of the world’s top centers for movement disorders. Lauren [Schrock]’s training in intraoperative physiology for guidance of DBS placement is unmatched. Together, they are one of the most sophisticated DBS teams not just in the region, but nationwide.”

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical treatment involving the implantation of a medical device sometimes referred to as a “brain pacemaker”, which sends electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain. These impulses inactivate the parts of the brain that cause the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and other movement disorders, including tremor. In addition to PD, deep brain stimulation in select brain regions has provided remarkable therapeutic benefits for otherwise treatment-resistant movement and affective disorders such as chronic pain, tremor and dystonia.  The University of Utah Clinical Neurosciences Center is the only facility in the intermountain region offering DBS to patients with Dystonia.

“With deep brain stimulation, the vast majority of people (over 70%) experience a significant improvement of all their symptoms related to Parkinson's disease”, said Dr. Schrock. “Most people are able to significantly reduce their medications and improve their quality of life. In many cases, daily living tasks that were impossible due to tremor can once again become part of a person’s routine.”

Deep brain stimulation has many advantages over other interventions and therapies, according to Dr. House. “First, DBS does not require purposeful destruction of any part of the brain and therefore, has fewer complications than other surgical procedures designed to reduce tremor. In addition, the electrical stimulation is adjustable and can be changed as the person's disease changes or his or her response to medications change. No further surgery is necessary to make the adjustments, and in the rare cases where a patient experiences negative side effects, the device can be turned off completely.”

“Finally”, continued Schrock, “as new treatments become available – such as gene therapies – we do not see DBS interfering with a patient being eligible for those options where appropriate.”
The new directors have ambitious goals for the program. “Over the next 3-5 years, in addition to expanding our ability to offer DBS and improve care for patients with DBS, we will focus on expanding our research into improving the technology for neuromodulation therapies such as DBS”, said House. “We are actively involved in helping to create the next generation of devices and therapies for individuals with these conditions.”

“Increasing community outreach and education, both to patients and to physicians throughout the region is another priority”, said Schrock. “Physicians and patients should know that they can access the highest level of care right here in the region.  As the incidence of movement disorders increases because of the aging population and other factors, we have created a program to evaluate patients for DBS as well as provide excellent care for them long-term.”