A team of Franco-Swiss researchers has enabled the development of an implant that stimulates the spinal cord of a person suffering from Parkinson’s disease. A feat which gives the opportunity to walk normally again and without risk of falling.
It’s a new tool that could well change the lives of Parkinson’s patients. Grégoire Courtine’s laboratory at EPFL in Lausanne (Switzerland) and Inserm have just presented an implant that stimulates the spinal cord and corrects walking disorders in patients seriously affected by the disease. Recently, the same type of implant had already been tested to restore walking to paralyzed people, we talked about it in TipsForWomens. In the case of Parkinson’s, the implant does not repair a spinal cord injury but normalizes the nerve signal sent by the brain, which is disrupted due to neurological damage.
Affected by Parkinson’s for 25 years, Marc is finally walking again
The case presented this November 6 in the newspaper Nature Medicine is that of Marc, a 62-year-old from Bordeaux, who has been suffering from Parkinson’s disease since the age of 36. Treated with dopamine and then with deep brain stimulation since 2004, he had however developed serious walking disorders, with balance problems and a tendency to fall.
“I could hardly walk without frequent falls, several times a day. In certain situations, like entering an elevator, I was stomping on the spot, freezing, as they say.” admits the patient.
Marc received a stimulation implant adapted to his pathology: a neuroprosthesis consisting of a field of electrodes placed against the region of the spinal cord which controls walking, linked to an electrical impulse generator implanted under the skin of the abdomen. The generator controlled by an algorithm adapts the electrical stimulation of the spinal cord to the patient’s movements in real time using sensors attached to the knees and connected shoes. It thus trains the first steps when the patient starts to walk and takes over to automate walking.
After two months of use, Marc was able to regain an almost normal gait and uses his implant whenever it is moving:
“I turn the stimulation on in the morning and turn it off in the evening. It allows me to walk better and stabilize myself. Even stairs no longer scare me anymore”.
Towards a clinical trial in 2024
The result is convincing and brings hope, as 90% of people with advanced Parkinson’s disease suffer from disabling walking disorders.
“It is impressive to note that by electrically stimulating the spinal cord in a targeted manner, in the same way as we did in paraplegic patients, we can correct the gait disorders caused by Parkinson’s disease”notes neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch, professor at CHUV, UNIL and EPFL.
The next stage of this progress will take place in 2024, with a clinical trial of 6 patients this time which could also help treat other disorders caused by Parkinson’s disease. In patients already treated with deep brain stimulation, the implant that allows this brain stimulation could be connected to the spinal cord implant to treat even more functions. “Our ambition is to generalize access to this innovative technology in order to significantly improve the quality of life of patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease, all over the world.”conclude the researchers.