A Parkinson’s patient walks again
Vita gazette – Technology developed in Switzerland has allowed Parkinson’s patients to walk again. Parkinson’s patient Marc Gauthier has become the first patient in the world to walk again thanks to the neuroprosthesis placed on the spinal cord.
A Parkinson’s patient with severe mobility problems can walk without falling thanks to a new experimental spinal implant that stimulates leg muscles. A Swiss company has developed a neuroprosthesis inserted into the spinal cord, activating leg muscles and allowing patients to walk again.
Marc, 63, has been living with advanced Parkinson’s disease since 1996. Dopamine and then deep brain stimulation, which he underwent in 2004, helped treat the tremors and rigidity. But the man also developed severe walking difficulties, including balance problems and gait freezing.
After receiving the implant, which aims to restore regular stimulation of the leg muscles by the spine, the patient experienced a “rebirth” and regained independence, as he can once again walk more normally without falling. “I practically couldn’t walk anymore without falling frequently, several times a day. Now, I’m not even afraid of stairs anymore. Every Sunday, I go to the lake and walk about six kilometres. It’s incredible”.
At the University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV), he was fitted with a neuroprosthesis consisting of electrodes on the spinal cord. In combination with an electrical pulse generator under the skin of the abdomen, the device delivers electrical impulses to the spinal cord to activate the leg muscles.
The patient wears a motion sensor on each leg, and when he starts walking, the implant automatically turns on and begins delivering stimulation pulses to the spinal neurons. The goal is to correct abnormal signals sent from the brain, along the spine, to the legs to restore normal movement.
Presented in a study in Nature Medicine journal, the implant has yet to undergo a full clinical trial. But the Franco-Swiss team, working on a long-standing project to develop brain-machine interfaces to overcome paralysis, hopes its technology could offer an entirely new approach to treating movement deficits in people with Parkinson’s.
“It is impressive to see how by electrically stimulating the spinal cord in a targeted way, the same way we have done with paraplegic patients, we can correct the gait disturbances caused by Parkinson’s disease,” said Jocelyne Bloch, neurosurgeon and professor at the CHUV university hospital in Lausanne, who co-led the work.
Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological disease characterised by symptoms such as tremors, rigidity and difficulty with balance and coordination. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the incidence of the disease has doubled in the last 25 years. Global estimates indicate that more than 8.5 million people suffered from it in 2019.