A smartwatch-like device that zaps the brain into reducing tics could be rolled out to Tourette’s patients in just a couple of years, experts say.
The gadget, developed by UK researchers, sends an electrical current through the wrist to parts of the brain that generate involuntary movements.
Trials of the tech are underway and experts say it could be rolled out to sufferers within ‘a couple of years’ and the condition could be curable ‘in the not-so-distant future’.
It comes after singer Lewis Capaldi revealed he has been diagnosed with the the ‘painful’ and ‘uncomfortable’ neurological condition, which causes his shoulder to twitch when he is ‘excited, happy, nervous or stressed’.
However, the 25-year-old Scottish musician said that his tic is ‘not as bad as it looks’ and he has received botox injections to freeze his muscles in a bid to control his involuntary movements.
While the jabs can offer temporary relief from symptoms for up to three months, doctors hope that the smartwatch will offer a longer-term solution for patients.
A watch-like device is now giving hope to Tourette’s sufferers that they can be rid of their uncontrollable tics. The gadget, which looks like an Apple watch or Fitbit, sends electrical pulses to the wrist’s median nerve and triggers electrical brain activity that suppresses movement. Some 135 participants in the UK are now trialing a prototype of the device (pictured)
WHAT IS TOURETTE’S?
Tourette’s causes people to make involuntary movements and sounds — called tics — without meaning to.
Physical tics can include jerking, blinking and jumping. They don’t usually harm health but jerking can be painful and may get worse due to stress, anxiety or tiredness.
Grunting, throat clearing and whistling are examples of vocal tics. Around one in 10 sufferers swear due to the condition.
Tourette’s is thought to effect 300,000 Britons and more than half a million Americans suffer from the condition, most of whom are children.
The condition usually starts during childhood, between the age of two and 14, before improving within years. Sometimes it goes away completely.
There is no cure for the syndrome but treatment — such as therapy and medicines — can help manage symptoms.
Tourette’s causes people to make involuntary movements and sounds — called tics — without meaning to, such as jerking, blinking and jumping, or grunting, throat clearing and whistling.
They don’t usually harm health — although jerking can be painful — but tics may get worse due to stress, anxiety or tiredness.
More than 300,000 Britons and known to suffer Tourette’s but experts believe the true figure is much higher. Millions of Americans suffer from the condition. Most of those affected are children.
The condition usually starts during childhood, between the age of two and 14. Half of sufferers say their symptoms improve with age, while it goes away completely for others.
There is currently no cure for the syndrome but treatment — such as therapy and medicines — can help manage symptoms.
But a watch-like device is now giving hope to sufferers that they can be rid of their uncontrollable tics.
The gadget, which looks like an Apple watch or Fitbit, interferes with the brain networks that are involved in generating tics.
It sends electrical pulses to the wrist’s median nerve and triggers electrical brain activity — known as brain oscillations — that suppresses movement.
Trials showed that those wearing the device on their wrist saw their frequency and severity of their tics reduce massively.
Some 135 participants in the UK are now trialing a prototype of the device, which they wear for 15 minutes per day for one month, and report its effects.
Professor Stephen Jackson, a Tourette’s researcher at Nottingham University who is heading the trial, said: ‘This is a significant step towards realising our goal of having a commercial product available for the TS community within a couple of years.’
Professor Hugo Critchley, a psychiatrist and Tourette’s expert at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, told MailOnline that this new approach is ‘very promising’ and offer sufferers ‘much hope for the future’.
Up to now, psychological treatment and deep brain stimulation — planting electrodes into the brain network — were the most effective options. But neither are available to the majority of sufferers.
Dr Andrea Cavanna, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of Birmingham, told MailOnline that the ‘increased pace of research advances makes it possible that this condition will be curable in the not-so-distant future’.
In the meantime, he explained that drugs are ‘the mainstay’ of Tourette’s treatment.
Neuroleptics are the main type of drug used, which alter the effect of the chemicals in the brain involved in movement. But clonidine, cloazepam and tetrabenazine work to reduce tics and are also dished out.
Lewis Capaldi has revealed that he suffers from Tourette’s syndrome (pictured at Global offices in London on Wednesday)
Dr Isobel Heyman, a consultant psychiatrist and has worked at Great Ormond Street Hospital, said on top of the new approaches for managing Tourette’s, therapy and training to resist tics can ‘really help some people’.
But she noted that there is a shortage of staff to do this and called for better access nation-wide.
Mr Capaldi received botox to manage his tic, which Professor Critchley said can be ‘very helpful’ in treating tics, especially those that cause pain.
He explained: ‘Botox acts by weakening the muscle — acting on how the nerve signals muscles to contract.
‘Most botox is used medically, [such as] for muscle spasm [or] paralysis in different medical conditions.
‘The effect of botox treatment for a tic may last well beyond that actual time the botox is working on the muscle, suggesting the body can “unlearn” the tic.’
Speaking about his condition to The Sun, Mr Capaldi said: ‘I have been diagnosed with Tourette’s. I wanted to speak about it because I didn’t want people to think I was taking cocaine or something.
‘My shoulder twitches when I am excited, happy, nervous or stressed. It is something I am living with. It is not as bad as it looks.’
He also opened up on the condition to his fans in an Instagram Live session, explaining that it could sometimes be ‘painful’ and ‘uncomfortable’.
The singer said: ‘It’s a new thing. I haven’t really learnt much about it. I got Botox in my shoulder to stop it moving but I’m learning new ways to cope all the time.
‘Some days it’s more painful than others, sometimes it’s quite uncomfortable but I guess that’s it.
‘When they told me, “We think you’ve got Tourette’s”, I was like, “Do you know what, that makes so much sense”.
‘When I look back at my interviews from 2018 I can see that I’m doing it.’
Keeping a positive attitude, the Glaswegian added: ‘It comes and goes. Sometimes I can go months without doing it. I thought I had some horrible degenerative disease so I’ll take Tourette’s.’
Dr Melina Malli, a researcher at Oxford University, told MailOnline that Mr Capaldi’s announcement is an ‘important step’ in busting the stigmatisation of those with Tourette’s.
Emma McNally, chief executive of Tourettes Action, told MailOnline that the public believes Tourette’s only affects a small number of people, despite one in 100 school aged-children being affected.
She said: ‘Lewis Capalidi speaking out of his diagnosis will hopefully encourage others who are in the public eye to do the same.
‘The more people who talk about Tourette syndrome, the more people who share their stories, the better.
‘Being diagnosed can be daunting, lots of uncertainty for the person and their families.
‘Newly diagnosed children need to see successful adults sharing and talking about their diagnosis, it will give them hope for the future.’