Dynamic suppression of pathological brain oscillations in Parkinson's disease (PD) with virtual environments (VE)

Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide, and is the second most prevalent neurodegenerative disorder in Canada. Typical symptoms include tremor, slowness of movement, difficulty in walking, and rigidity. Drug treatments and surgery are available to improve symptoms, but these forms of therapy are not always effective and can have serious side effects. As these options aren’t appropriate for all Parkinson’s patients, alternative, non-invasive treatments are needed. Parkinson’s symptoms are caused by a lack of the chemical messenger dopamine. Dopamine is normally released by neurons in the substantia nigra, allowing communication with the basal ganglia, an area of the brain that is responsible for the planning and smooth execution of movement. The lack of dopamine is believed to result in abnormal rhythms in the motor control areas of the brain, impeding movement. Recent studies have shown that appropriate stimuli can suppress the abnormal brain rhythms responsible for blocking movement in people with Parkinson’s and help improve the way people with the disease move and walk. Giorgia Tropini is researching the association between visual stimuli and ongoing brain rhythms. Using virtual environment technology and electroencephalogram (EEG) measurements, Giorgia is developing specific, precisely timed visual images to disrupt inappropriate brain rhythms. Ultimately, she aims to contribute to the development of a wearable, non-surgical, non-pharmacological device to treat Parkinson’s symptoms. Findings from her research could also be applied to other diseases that involve abnormal brain rhythms, such as epilepsy and depression.