U of M, St. Jude partner to tackle Parkinson’s, depression

Patient care

By Matt DePoint

University of Minnesota researchers and St. Jude Medical are collaborating to treat some of the most challenging and debilitating movement and neuropsychiatric disorders using deep brain stimulation (DBS), a treatment which uses electrical current to directly stimulate parts of the brain. The project is part of MnDRIVE (Minnesota’s Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy), a $36 million biennial investment by the state that aims to solve grand challenges in areas that align with Minnesota’s industries, including discoveries and treatments for brain conditions.

MnDRIVE’s ongoing partnership with industry leaders will help to achieve its goals for treatments of brain conditions through neuromodulation, a therapeutic intervention that modulates (or changes) the activity of brain circuits to decrease symptoms and improve function.

“We are excited to be collaborating with St. Jude Medical to identify new and better approaches to delivering DBS therapy for patients with Parkinson’s disease, including, for example, changes in how the pulsed electrical stimuli delivered to targets deep within the brain are patterned, or organized,” said Kenneth Baker, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota. “We hope not only to improve the direct response of the motor abnormalities to DBS, but also to improve patient care by reducing technological and surgical burdens, such as battery replacements.”

Baker adds that the preclinical research is designed in such a way that improvements in their understanding of how best to treat the motor signs of the disease will provide his team with greater insight into the nature of the disease itself and form the basis for novel approaches or additional refinements down the road. The next steps in their research will include smaller translational studies focusing on human trials and treatments.

“Neuromodulation for the treatment of movement disorders is a therapy on the forefront of modern medicine,” said Eric Fain, group president at St. Jude Medical. “As our company explores the potential of neuromodulation therapy, we rely on collaborative partnerships with research partners like the University of Minnesota to help us advance research projects that push that exploration forward. St. Jude Medical and the University of Minnesota have a long-standing partnership that consistently impacts patient care worldwide, and we’re confident that our partnership will continue to ensure the state of Minnesota is a leader in neuromodulation therapy now and in the future.”

In addition to the pre-clinical work occurring in Jerrold Vitek, M.D., Ph.D.’s, professor and chair of neurology, research lab, MnDRIVE researchers are also collaborating with St. Jude Medical on treating neuropsychiatric disorders with DBS.

“Deep brain stimulation is the most promising new treatment for treatment resistant depression. It is based on the anatomy of depression and targets a specific area of the brain that is overactive in depression,” said Barry Rittberg, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota. “Some subjects that have been disabled for years have had such good improvement that they have been able to return to work and enjoy life once again.”

Learn more new neuromodulation research and treatments at the University of Minnesota here: MnDRIVE brain conditions.

Matt DePoint is a public relations coordinator for the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center and focuses primarily on brain sciences, diabetes and health policy, along with a number of other areas within the health sciences.