Experts discuss sensors and stimulation method to treat brain disorders

A non-invasive technique to electrically stimulate the brain and wearable sensors could lead to better treatments of brain disorders, say experts.

Dr Nir Grossman, assistant professor at the Division of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London, and Professor Paul Matthews, Edmond and Lily Safra Chair of Translational Neuroscience and Therapeutics at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, showcased their research into treating neurological diseases at the recent Imperial College Academic Health Science (AHSC) seminar at Charing Cross Hospital.


In a packed lecture theatre, Dr Grossman talked about his work on developing a non-invasive approach to deep brain stimulation (DBS).

DBS is a surgical method used to ease the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s such as tremors.  It involves placing very fine wires with electrodes into the brain.  The electrodes deliver high frequency stimulation which changes some of the electrical signals in the brain that causes Parkinson’s.

Previous studies have shown that DBS can improve the quality of life in some patients with advanced Parkinson’s where medication can no longer control the symptoms.  However, the process can be invasive as it involves cutting open a person’s skull and inserting electrodes inside the brain to reduce physical symptoms.

Dr Grossman explained that his team have developed a DBS method that involves placing electrodes on the scalp, rather than inside the brain. The method is called temporal interference (TI) stimulation.  TI uses electric fields of different frequencies to simulate brain activity.

An earlier study involving mice showed that TI can non-invasively activate neurons in the hippocampus - a region deep in the brain that is central to memory and cognition. The advantage of TI stimulation is that it is precise, only stimulating the targeted neurons.

Dr Grossman also explained that this new technique could be used to treat other neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease where neurons in the hippocampus have degenerated.  However, more research needs to be carried out.

The next step is to carry out the first clinical trial in healthy volunteers at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.


In the video above, Professor Matthews showcased his work on the impact of using sensor technology to assess walking speeds in progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) patients in their home environments.

MS is a condition which can affect the brain and/or spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.  In progressive MS, symptoms get gradually worse with no remission and there is no treatment that can slow or stop the accumulation of disability. There are more than 100,000 people living with MS in the UK, the majority with a progressive form. Across the world, more than a million people have progressive MS.

Clinicians currently monitor MS patients every three to six months in hospital clinics.  One of the tests they administer to patients is getting them to walk a short distance during their visit to assess their mobility.  However, this provides only a small window into their experience.

Sensor systems have the potential to give continual information on movements, allowing details about walking, balance and activity to be determined. This could enable more meaningful assessments of therapies in real life home environments and provide valuable feedback to patients.

Professor Matthews and his colleagues tested wearable sensors on 32 patients at Charing Cross Hospital, part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, over a year in 2016.

They found that the sensors were able to accurately measure walking speeds and movement of MS patients remotely unlike other devices.  This information could help clinicians evaluate treatments for progressive MS more effectively as well as paving the way for personalised medicine.

Professor Matthews outlined that the team are working to improve ways of reporting data from the sensors so that patients can monitor their own activity directly and control the sharing of their data with doctors to help them decide on best approaches to management of their MS.

The seminar was the last in a series at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust designed to showcase the work of the AHSC, a partnership between Imperial College London and three NHS Trusts.