Hope for Parkinson’s disease sufferers: scientists restore movement to patients

Canadian scientists have developed a technique of applying electrical stimulation via a device inserted into the spine of Parkinson’s sufferers that have difficulty walking. The results have been hugely promising.

To date, there has been no treatment for Parkinson’s patients that have lost the ability to walk. Many sufferers use wheelchairs because of the condition or become restricted to their homes.

Some of the Parkinson’s patients had not walked “with any confidence” for years before the new treatment

Professor Mandar Jog, who developed the new treatment at London, Ontario, said many of the patients in his program “have not walked with any confidence for several years” and many had suffered the disease for 15 years or more.

“For them to go from being homebound, with the risk of falling, to being able to go on trips to the mall and have vacations is remarkable for me to see.”

The Professor believes that the disease tampers with the body’s ability to send signals back to the brain, a process that plays out every time a person walks. He and his colleagues have developed an implant which can bolster that signal for Parkinson’s patients.

He has found that those with the implant are able to walk even when the implant has been turned off. This has led him to believe that the electrical stimulus applied to the spinal cord reignites the signal loop between the legs and the brain that becomes damaged in those with Parkinson’s.

“This is a completely different rehabilitation therapy,” he said.

The treatment involves a dorsal epidural implant, meaning it does not puncture the spine. Instead, it sits on top of the dura, the outermost membrane which wraps around the brain and spinal cord.

“It’s given me more confidence”: patients overjoyed to walk freely again

66-year-old Gail Jardine is one of Jog’s patients. She was ‘freezing’ and falling down multiple times a day before receiving the implant.

Her condition meant she could no longer hike through the Ontario countryside, something she loved to do. Since getting the implant, she says she hasn’t had any falls.

“I can walk a lot better,” she said.

“It’s given me more confidence and I’m looking forward to taking more walks with (her husband) Stan and maybe even (hiking) on my own,” she told the BBC.

Jog also reported that one patient in his program was able to take a trip to the East Coast after receiving the treatment. He had basically been confined to his house the previous six years and found the improvement overwhelming.

“His wife was literally crying when she told us he went from their cottage and walked up and down the beach, on his own,” Jog told Medscape.

Scans of patients in the program have showed the areas of the brain that control the body’s movement have been restored since they have had the implant attached.

Last year, Jog and two colleagues, Olivia Samotus and Andrew Parrent, published an article in Movement Disorders outlining their progress to date.

This pilot study demonstrated the safety and significant therapeutic outcome of spinal cord stimulation in advanced (Parkinson’s disease) patients, and thus a larger and longer clinical study will be conducted to replicate these results,” they wrote.

Jog hopes that eventually patients will be able to program the system and adjust the settings as necessary at home.

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