Neuroscience is a big field that covers a lot of territory.
According to Peter Nora, M.D., attending neurosurgeon at Swedish Cherry Hill and chief of neurosurgery at Swedish Issaquah, neuroscience is the study of the structure and function of the entire nervous system – brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves. The physicians in this field treat diseases that affect neurologic function. This includes vascular diseases, like strokes and hemorrhages; benign and malignant tumors; functional diseases like Parkinson’s and epilepsy; and spinal diseases and tumors.
Even with the broad scope and complexities of working in this field, Nora is optimistic about the current research and where treatment is headed. He shares his expertise and thoughts on the future of the field.
What are the biggest challenges in the field?
In the last 20 years, the field has seen real progress in the safety and efficacy of surgical treatments. However, Nora says, “Much more research and clinical effort needs to be put into detecting neurologic diseases earlier, before they become symptomatic. This includes getting a more comprehensive understanding of the natural history of each neurologic disease.”
Once researchers in the field have a better idea of the development of the disease, they can catch it and treat it earlier to limit progression.
How are these neurological disorders treated?
Currently, these disorders are treated with one or more of the following methods:
• Surgery – abnormal tissue like tumors may be removed.
• Neuromodulation – implanted devices emit electrical impulses or deliver bioactive substances to limit neurologic problems.
• Endovascular – small catheters are placed in the arms or legs and are guided to repair an injured blood vessel or open a blocked vessel.
What are some exciting future treatments?
Brain tumor vaccines – There currently aren’t any approved vaccines for brain tumors but there are some interesting trials underway. These vaccines are designed to prompt the immune system to attack and destroy tumor cells based on a patient’s individual DNA.
Early clinical trial results for a vaccine that treats glioblastoma shows that nearly 97% of patients did not experience tumor progression in the six months following treatment with vaccine and surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Alzheimer’s treatment – While there is currently no cure for the disease, when caught early, Alzheimer’s patients can receive drug-related and non-drug-related treatments that slow the decline in memory and cognitive skills. Some researchers are working on new diagnostic tools such as a PET (positron emission tomography) scan that detects an abnormal protein present in patients with Alzheimer’s dementia.
New therapies for Parkinson’s – There are several new Parkinson’s treatment options that are showing promising results in trials. These treatments fall into two categories – those that modify the disease by slowing or stopping the progression and those that treat the symptoms. There are currently five potential disease-modifying strategies in clinical trials.
Robotic and computer-assisted surgery – In most of these systems, the robot has a camera arm and a mechanical arm. The surgeon is nearby and has a high-definition, magnified 3D view of the surgical site with the help of a monitor (the camera), and controls the mechanical arm to perform surgery.
Where do we go from here?
While the category of neuroscience is broad, many medical centers have special clinics to focus on and address the specific categories of disease like tumors, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, etc. And as a result of COVID precautions, many clinics are offering more virtual visits and telehealth access to make sure every patient – even those who may live far away – can get excellent care.
“As a field we continue to improve our understanding of neurologic diseases while we remain completely focused on improving the lives of our patients,” Nora says. “Treating diseases of the nervous system remains a daunting challenge. However, researchers and physicians are becoming evermore committed to understanding these diseases and in time, curing them or preventing them from developing at all.
The Swedish Neuroscience Institute provides advanced, progressive treatment for a wide range of brain, spine and central nervous system conditions. We have world-renown neurosurgeons and neurologists, leading-edge operating rooms, telehealth access and a specially trained Inpatient Neurology Team.