SCIENTISTS in the region have made a discovery that could help a million people in the UK who suffer from shakes and tremors.

There are hopes the breakthrough could lead to new treatments in five to ten years.

Mild tremor is a feature of daily life in healthy individuals, but more severe tremors are a symptom of nervous diseases such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and essential tremor.

Essential tremor is common in old age, but younger people can also be affected. In severe cases, it can leave people unable to walk unaided.

Newcastle University scientists have discovered a mechanism in the spine which counteracts the brainwaves that produce tremors, meaning they are a step closer to treating the shakes and transforming lives.

Research leader Professor Stuart Baker, professor of movement neuroscience, said: “We do not fully understand the brain systems causing these tremors, but they can really have a massive impact on someone’s quality of life.

“They lose their independence and cannot do something as simple as make a cup of tea.

“Our approach was that instead of looking at why people suffer from tremors, we started to look at why most people do not suffer from them.

“We reasoned that there is something in the body which counters the tremor – cancelling it out – and we wanted to find out what it was.”

The research, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, involved teaching macaque monkeys to move their index finger slowly backwards and forwards.

This increased the natural minor tremors that primates and humans experience.

Sensors were used to record the activity of nerve cells from the brain and the spinal cord as the animals moved.

The brain and spinal cord both showed rhythmic activity at the same frequency as the tremor.

Crucially, the scientists found that the spinal cord activity counteracted the brain’s oscillations and reduced the size of the tremor.

Monkeys were used because they have hands like humans and have very similar connections from the brain to the spinal cord.

Prof Baker said: “It is actually the first time anyone has ever recorded these tremors in monkeys.”

Norma Riley, 71, from Lanchester, County Durham, has been suffering from a serious tremor for the past three years. It has left her isolated and feeling depressed. The cause of her tremor is not yet diagnosed.

She said: “I used to like going out for longs walks in the countryside, but I cannot do that any more. It has had a huge impact on my quality of life.

“It would be a great thing for me and those in the same position if they can come up with a way of treating my tremor.”