The possibility of a patient lowering their blood pressure at the flick of a switch has been raised by research led by Oxford University, which shows that stimulating parts of the brain with electrodes can change a patient’s blood pressure.
In a paper published today by Neuroreport, researchers at Oxford University and Imperial College London report that they have found the exact area of the brain that controls blood pressure and how to make use of it.
A team of neurosurgeons and physiologists have found that they can make patients’ blood pressure increase or decrease by stimulating with electrodes very specific regions of the brain.
Deep brain stimulation – placing very thin electrodes onto exact locations in the brain – is already used to relieve pain or to help Parkinsons’ sufferers to move better. Fifteen patients having the operation to implant electrodes for pain control agreed to take part in a study to see whether stimulating another location in the brain could alter blood pressure.
It was found that blood pressure could indeed be changed, and that it could be raised or lowered very precisely by stimulating different, very specific parts of the brain. This potentially offers a cure to sufferers of high blood pressure that does not depend on taking drugs long-term.
As the electrodes can be switched on and off, another condition that could potentially be treated using this method is ‘postural hypotension’, a condition where a patient’s blood pressure falls uncontrollably upon standing up.
Mr. Alexander Green from Oxford's Department of Neurosurgery, lead author of the paper, said: ‘Obviously, as this is brain surgery, we have to proceed with great caution: it would initially only be warranted in those patients for whom drug treatments just aren’t working. However, other research groups are working on less invasive methods of stimulating exact locations in the brain, for example using nanotechnology, and if this becomes available then the treatment would be attractive to a much larger number of people.’
A patient having surgery to implant electrodes. After surgery the electrodes can be switched on and off by the patient using a handheld box.