New scientific innovation aids a man in gaining free movement in his legs after being home-bound for years.
Human innovation in recent years has made some unimaginable things possible. A recent example of this came when researchers were able to use spinal implants to make a man with Parkinson's walk successfully after years of difficulty, as per a study published in Nature. The implant works by delivering electrical stimulation to the spinal cord, which in turn helps people in walking. The method has proven to be successful only on one person so far, and the researchers aim to spread its use by testing on more people. If it bears fruits on other individuals, then they will introduce it as a viable option for people with Parkinson's.
The technology was developed by researchers associated with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland. The outcome of the implants has enabled Marc Gauthier not only to walk properly but also to navigate terrain without falling. Prior to the implant, he was suffering from the typical effects of Parkinson's, which were uncontrollable movements and not being able to coordinate his actions.
Jocelyne Bloch, a neurosurgeon at the EPFL and a lead author of the paper, was delighted by the results. She shared with Nature, "There are no therapies to address the severe gait problems that occur at a later stage of Parkinson's, so it's impressive to see him walking." Gauthier, on his part, had a lot of gratitude for this implant as it significantly improved his life for the better. Before the implant, he was falling constantly because not being able to freely move around.
As a result, he had to leave his job as an architect. He explained in the press conference, "I would fall five to six times per day. I would often stay home as well and was forced to stop working three years ago. For example, walking into a store was impossible before because of the freezing of gait that would happen in those environments. And now it doesn't happen anymore." Though the treatment worked on Gauthier, the researchers are not sure it will be functional for others. They are looking forward to conducting a "randomized, controlled trial," as per Susan Harkema, a neuroscientist at the University of Louisville in Kentucky who works on stimulation therapy in people with spinal cord injuries.
For this technology to work on an individual, they would need to go through a surgical procedure. In this procedure, a neuroprosthetic device would be implanted in the spinal cord, which then will send electrical shocks in specific regions to active dysfunctional neural circuits. This method was first applied to people suffering from paralysis due to a spinal cord injury. It helped them to stand and walk for short distances.
The researchers thought to apply it to Parkinson's and started with Gauthier. They personalized the procedure for him by making use of data regarding his walking deficits and patterns. The data was collected with the help of sensors on his feet and legs.
A good way to start the day with a major medical development which could dramatically improve the lives of many with Parkinsons. A Swiss company has developed a spinal implant that enabled a Parkinson's sufferer regain the ability to walk again - https://t.co/64gI0yeYNW— Page of Positivity (@PageofPositives) November 9, 2023
With the available data, they were able to adjust the stimulation to give him during the procedure as per any individualized dysfunction like weak knee extension or contraction issues. "Our specialty is in our understanding of how to stimulate the spinal cord in order to be very precise in the way we adjust leg movement," says Grégoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the EPFL who developed the technique. "The novelty of this study is to leverage this understanding and technology in Parkinson's."
The researchers want large studies with this technology. "There's not enough data in this paper to conclude that this approach will be better than current standard treatments," Harkema says. In the past, dozens of studies have tried to analyze whether spinal cord stimulation can be effective with gait issues, but it has always been with a small participant pool. To judge the efficiency of this treatment on the overall population large studies are the need of the hour.