New treatment may help patients with Tourettes

June 15, 2010 3:14:51 PM PDT
Tourettes is characterized by involuntary movements or vocalizations called tics. Doctors are looking at a new treatment for patients with it.Tim Howard is one of the best goal keepers in the world. Now, he is playing for team USA right in the World Cup while managing Tourettes syndrome. He was diagnosed at age nine.

The tics can be shouts, coughs, shrugs, curses, strange facial movements. Some can be quite minor, while others are more severe and interfere with life.

The onset of Tourette syndrome is usually in childhood. The syndrome has life-long affects.

Some people need no treatment, but others need medications which have their own difficulties. Now doctors are studying a non invasive treatment method.

Gardiner Comfort was just seven when he was diagnosed. He was confused and turned to his mother for an answer.

"So i said is this gonig to keep going..she said she felt so bad for me. One of those heartbreakign things, but I was forced to deal with it, " said Comfort.

Comfort is now a working actor. He's thirty, and still struggles with Tourette syndrome.

His tics, which have changed, are in his throat.

"Its kind of like (cough) and a manipulation of my throat which is kind of uncomfortable," said Comfort.

The medications Comfort has taken can also be uncomfortable. So, he's trying something new, Repetitive Transcranical Magnetic Stimulation, or t.M.S.

Comfort is taking part in a study of t.M.S. for Tourettes being conducted at Yale University and at the New York state Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University.

t.M.S. uses magnetic waves to affect the circuitry of the brain. It is a treatment already used to treat severe depression, and may help to treat Tourettes.

"Now we are continuing trying to replicate the results we got in the past in a controlled clinical trial, " Dr. Antonio Mantavani of the NYS Psychiatric Institute said.

Comfort has been getting the treatment every day. First, he received a placebo, without knowing if the treatment was real. Now, he receives the real thing.

Comfort has high hopes that this study will be a success.

"I've tried everything else," he said.

Interestingly, the tics never interfere with Comfort's on stage performances. They don't interfere with Tim Howard's soccer playing abilities either. These examples highlight the mysteries of brain disorders. The causes of Tourette syndrome are unknown.

The t.M.S. study should be complete in another year and researchers will see if and in what circumstances it could work.