Press release | 9.6.2016
Lisbon/Munich, 9 June 2016 - The lives of people suffering from severe symptoms related to Parkinson's disease and other neurological conditions have improved tremendously thanks to an approach known as high-frequency deep brain stimulation (DBS). High-frequency DBS was brought into clinical practice by French physicist and neurosurgeon Alim-Louis Benabid (74). For this accomplishment, the European Patent Office (EPO) honoured Benabid with the 2016 European Inventor Award in the "Research" category, one of five award categories, at a ceremony held today in Lisbon.
"Benabid's invention has given new hope to people previously immobilised by complications arising from Parkinson's disease," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. "The method has now become a standard treatment at hospitals around the world and has benefitted over 150 000 people, who can now lead self-directed, independent lives thanks to this invention.
"The award ceremony at Lisbon's MEO Arena was attended by some 600 prominent guests from the areas of politics, business, intellectual property and science, and opened by the EPO President, Portugal's Prime Minister António Costa and European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas.
The award, now in its 11th year, is presented annually by the EPO to distinguish outstanding inventors from Europe and around the world who have made an exceptional contribution to social development, technological progress and economic growth. The winners were chosen by an independent international jury out of nearly 400 individuals and teams of inventors put forward for this year's award.
While scientists in the 1960s had already experimented with treating Parkinson's disease by inserting electric probes into a part of the brain known as the thalamus - a technique known as deep brain stimulation - outcomes were modest at best. That changed radically in 1987. While performing surgery on a patient with Parkinson's at Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, Benabid made a crucial and surprising discovery. When the young scientist increased the frequency of an electric probe stimulating the patient's thalamus from 50 Hz into the high-frequency range, the patient's Parkinson's-related muscle tremor subsided entirely. "I realised that the moment I stimulated at 100 Hz, the tremor stopped. We knew we had something on our hands that could be the basis for therapy," recalls Benabid. This marked the eureka moment that would catapult the inventor, who holds degrees in both medicine and physics, to develop his own approach.
Working closely with medical company Medtronic, Benabid helped to create a device that is adjusted to the treatment needs of individual patients. Inserted via a small incision into the skull, the high-frequency probe is worn permanently - similar to a pacemaker for heart disease - and it administers electrical charges at controlled intensities of 130 Hz to targeted regions of the thalamus and surrounding areas of the brain. By allowing patients to resume fully functional, independent lives, the approach proved superior to radical surgeries; it is also fully reversible.
The author of 12 granted patents and 523 scientific papers, Benabid continues his research as an emeritus professor at his alma mater.
In 1998, Benabid's high-frequency DBS received CE mark approval in Europe for treatment of Parkinson's disease, followed by full FDA approval in the US in 2002. Administered to over 150 000 patients to date, DBS has become the clinical standard for the treatment of advanced Parkinson's disease and conditions such as epilepsy, essential tremor, and involuntary muscle contractions known as dystonia.
"This is what rewards me the most," says Benabid, "to see that patients have regained quality of life."
Short video about the inventor (YouTube)
Note to editors: availability of AV and photo materials on 9 June 2016
Contacts at the EPO in Munich, Germany
Director External Communication