Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Tipu Aziz speaks, a miracle is performed, he twitches his moustache.

Things that have never ever happened before, in all the time I've been attending scientific lectures.

1. There was a queue, nay queues, to get in. The swell of people was such that they had to be subdivided according to the first letter of their surname to create several quite long queues. I know! At a lecture!

2. There was a police presence.

3. A full 15 minutes before the start of the lecture people were struggling to find seats.

4. There were 'reserved' notices on the best seats at the front. Like at a fashion show.

And then appeared the small man in spectacles and a bow tie. Behold. Tipu Aziz.

Tipu Aziz is a controversial character. He always draws a crowd. But it was very clear that the vast majority of people had actually turned out to see Mike Robins.

Tipu Aziz is Professor of Neurosurgery at Oxford and a lecturer at Imperial. He has done pioneering work on Parkinson's Disease and is regarded by some as 'God'.

Mike Robins is a retired businessman.

But in 1999 Mike had Deep Brain Stimulation, a technique developed by Tipu Aziz, and it all but cured the Parkinson's symptoms he been suffering with for six years. Before his treatment he felt like he was going crazy. He started crying spontaneously and stopped going out all together. If someone came to the door he would hide and for most of the time he was just really extremely miserable.

Then he had fine electrodes implanted deep in his brain. Controlled a bit like a pacemaker, these electrodes stimulate the cells thought to be involved in Parkinson's Disease. And whenever Mike wants, he can just switch them off.

The demonstration was dramatic and extremely touching. A little bit like this one but actually more profound. The audience sat in stunned silence. I think we were all a little bit moved. Everyone seemed to have a little something in their eye and there were several sniffles (though not from me, I'm hard as nails, I actually really did just have something in my eye right?).

Mike explained that, on our way to the lecture, we would have likely passed within a quarter mile of someone with his symptoms. Except we wouldn't have known about it because they don't come out.

Tipu stroked his moustache.