The International Neuromodulation Society names a Giant of Neuromodulation

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The International Neuromodulation Society (INS) recognised its third Giant of Neuromodulation at its 12th World Congress (6–11 June, Montreal, Canada)—the first such awardee who is renowned for work in neuromodulation for movement disorder.

The honour was given to Alim-Louis Benabid, board chairman of the biomedical research centre Clinatec in Grenoble, France. His clinical work in the 1980s helped usher in the modern era of using deep brain stimulation (DBS) to manage motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor and dystonia.

The award has been presented at biennial congresses of the nonprofit medical society since 2011, reflecting the growth and maturity of the field.

Neuromodulation therapy stimulates specific areas in the nervous system to relieve symptoms and help restore function. It has been used over the last four decades to manage symptoms of chronic conditions such as neuropathic pain or movement disorder.

Benabid, a neurosurgeon and emeritus professor of biophysics at Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, reflected recently that he was drawn to the field not just for the insights it offered into neurological systems, but also for the potential to directly treat problems through functional neurosurgery.

Benabid has pointed out that newly developed methods have helped to address serious clinical conditions in a process that has led to new branches and applications of neurostimulation.

In his breakthrough in 1987, Benabid adapted deep brain stimulation leads that had already been introduced for deafferentation pain. He discovered in pre-surgical probing that high-frequency stimulation mimicked the effect of the only surgical treatment available at the time to control severe involuntary tremor, ablation of a small brain area. He began to offer movement disorder patients who were referred for a second, bilateral ablation to have deep brain stimulation instead, since it is reversible and adjustable and does not destroy brain tissue.

In the years since he published his finding with neurologist Pierre Pollak in 1987, DBS has largely replaced ablation as a treatment for movement disorder. Some 100,000 patients with Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor or dystonia have received DBS therapy to improve their function and quality of life. New potential indications and stimulation targets are being actively researched. In addition to helping limit motor symptoms of movement disorder, DBS also has a humanitarian device exemption from the FDA for obsessive compulsive disorder.

“Alim-Louis Benabid’s work offers hope that we may increasingly relieve suffering from a widening scope of brain disorders, through having formed the foundation to gaining a greater understanding of the dynamics of neural circuits, and their impact on function and symptoms,” said Andres Lozano, a professor and chair of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto, Canada. Lozano presented the award at the congress.

A member of the French Académie des Sciences, Benabid received the Robert A Pritzker Prize for Leadership in Parkinson’s Research in 2013; shared the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award in 2014 with Mahlon Delong; received a lifetime achievement award from the North American Neuromodulation Society in 2014; and is a recipient of the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.

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