Ascension Doctor First in Michigan to use Remote Parkinson Treatment

the app interface for NeuroSphere Virtual Clinic
Dr. Paul Cullis of Ascension Michigan is the first in the state to program a deep brain stimulator for Parkinson’s called NeuroSphere Virtual Clinic. // Courtesy of NeuroSphere Virtual Clinic.

Dr. Paul Cullis, chair of neurosciences for Ascension Michigan in Warren, became the first neurologist in the state to program a deep brain stimulator (DBS) for Parkinson’s disease called NeuroSphere Virtual Clinic using remote neuromodulation programming technology and in-app video-chat services.

The first-of-its-kind remote patient care system allows DBS — a treatment for movement disorders that involves placing a neurostimulator in the head which sends electrical impulses through implanted electrodes to specific targets — to be programmed no matter where the patient is, providing flexible treatment available anywhere.

“Parkinson’s disease, which is a brain disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with walking, balance, and coordination, is becoming more common as the population ages,” says Cullis.

According to the National Institute of Aging, the brain disorder is the second most common age-related neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease, affecting over one percent of the population over the age of 60, and five percent over the age of 85.

The system is designed to change the treatment approach for patients suffering from chronic pain or movement disorders who don’t live close to necessary medical care. NeuroSphere Virtual Clinic, developed by Abbott Laboratories headquartered in Chicago, also connects patients with movement disorders to doctors virtually, eliminating the time burden of driving to a medical facility and sitting in the waiting room.

“Programming DBS with remote neuromodulation programming technology allows us to change the stimulation in a patient’s brain during a telehealth visit at a remote location such as the patient’s home,” says Cullis. “This allows patients to be treated without a long or difficult visit to their neurologist’s office.”

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s, but DBS was approved as a treatment by the Food and Drug Administration in 2002 and has helped improve function for patients with moderate symptoms or for patients who have times during the day when their symptoms are not well-controlled.

In Michigan, Ascension operates 16 hospitals and hundreds of related health care facilities that together employ more than 23,000 employees. During fiscal year 2020, it provided over $311 million in community benefit and care of persons living in poverty in the state, and $2.4 billion nationwide.