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A little boy can run again thanks to a procedure performed by a team at the SJD Barcelona Children’s Hospital

Electrodes were implanted in his brain to slow down the neural discharges responsible for the movement disorder from which he suffered.

Published in:
25 July 2016
A neurosurgeon observes a trial run prior to the intervention.
A neurosurgeon observes a trial run prior to the intervention.

Using a surgical technique involving deep cerebral stimulation, a team of neurosurgeons and neuro paediatricians of the Sant Joan de Déu Barcelona Children’s Hospital has treated a 9-year-old boy who was suffering from a serious movement disorder that prevented him from walking. 

The neurosurgeons implanted electrodes in his brain to slow down the neural discharges responsible for the movement disorder which were twisting the muscles, causing abnormal posture, hindering his ability to walk and threatening to leave him in a wheelchair. Three weeks after the intervention, the boy is already running around and playing football.

The patient, who lives in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, presented a primary general dystonia, a movement disorder that continuously and simultaneously contracts the muscles and causes severe twisting of the limbs, which progressively incapacitates the child until he/she is rendered completely immobile. In the majority of cases, these children do not present other neurological conditions so they maintain their cognitive functions and are completely aware of the situation.

Although deep cerebral stimulation is approved by the FDA for the treatment of generalised dystonia in children, and though in many cases it is the only effective treatment, in Spain there are no paediatric reference centres where it can be performed. 

What does deep cerebral stimulation involve?

It involves implanting two electrodes in the child’s brain, specifically in the internal globus pallidus, to stimulate this zone and slow down the neural discharges that cause the disease. These electrodes give off electrical impulses thanks to an electrical generator that the neurosurgeons implant in the child’s abdomen.

During this procedure, a cutting-edge robot was used, which allowed the electrodes to be implanted in the brain using pre-planned trajectories.

Before the procedure, an MRI scan is performed on the patient so that the surgeons can examine how best to access the area to be operated on. On the day of the surgery itself, they perform a CAT scan on the patient so that the robot has coordinates that allow it to reproduce, with a high degree of precision, the trajectory devised for the implantation of the electrodes.

In relation to traditional surgery, the robot has certain advantages in that the surgeons do not have to place a guiding frame on the patient’s head and they can implant multiple electrodes in a shorter space of time, considerably reducing the duration of the operation.

The SJD Barcelona Children’s Hospital treats patients all over Spain as it was designated as anational reference centre (CSUR) by the Ministry of Health for the treatment of rare illnesses that present movement disorders in childhood, as is the case with primary generalised dystonia.