Individuals with Tourette Syndrome (TS) may have their lives changed by a newly developed technology that will soon be a watch-like device. Researchers from the University of Nottingham, with the support of Tourettes Action and the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Center, experimented the effect of rhythmic pulses of median nerve stimulation (MNS), resulting in a large reduction to tic frequency and intensity.

Charlie Barnett, suffering from TS for three years, almost had tears of joy after participating in the technology trials. 'I've tried a lot of different medications, therapies, relaxation techniques, support groups, and diet changes to try to relieve my Tourette's. Although I was skeptical, I was keen to be involved in this study,' he shared.

'The whole experiment was very surreal. When the electrical pulse on the wrist started to increase, the tic urges decreased, which was a completely shocking experience for me,' said Charlie. He was consistently silent and still for three more sessions and the stimulations decreased his tics at home.

He felt that the new treatment would finally free him from TS. 'This breakthrough could change an individual's mental stability in life and confidence, which is vital as Tourette's Syndrome can destroy your life a tic at a time. This breakthrough will hopefully change people's lives for the good.'

Uncontrollable Tics

Children with TS typically begin having tics between the ages of five and seven. Tic severity peaks usually at 12 or 13 years of age and develop into adulthood. Without treatment, adults with TS could suffer from very severe tics.

The neuropsychiatric disorder is characterized by these motor and vocal tics. The repetitive movements and vocalizations (usually obscene language) occur multiple times a day and are followed by a premonitory urge (PU), or a strong urge to tic.

Repetitive trains of stimulation to the MNS at the wrist were used to increase the strength of electrical brain activity or brain oscillations. Tics and premonitory urges were significantly less.

Barbara Morera Maiquez from the University of Nottingham said: 'The results of this study were quite remarkable, especially in those people with the most severe tics, and showed that this type of stimulation has real potential as a treatment aid for Tourette's.' 

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Watch-like Stimulator

19 participants in the trials were observed at one-minute periods with constant MNS rhythmic pulses to their right wrist. This was compared to one-minute periods with no stimulation. 100% of participants experienced tic reductions as individuals with the most severe tics had the most significant results from the device.

Suzanne Dobson, Chief Executive of Tourettes Action, said that the charity takes pride in supporting these new developments. Since there is no pharmaceutical treatment for TS and psychological treatments that are not easily available, the 'wearable and self-managing treatment could potentially change the lives of thousands of people living with TS. We will continue to support the team at the University of Nottingham as this amazing treatment continues to evolve.'

'Our aim is to develop a wearable 'watch-like' MNS stimulator that looks like an Apple Watch or Fitbit and can be used by the individual outside of the clinic as and when they need to control their tics,' Maiquez said.

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