A man with Parkinson's disease has seen a significant improvement in his ability to walk after receiving a device that stimulates his spinal cord. While this study is based on one person's experience, it suggests that this technique could be widely used to address movement difficulties in individuals with Parkinson's disease.
Around 90% of people with Parkinson's disease experience some form of movement difficulty. Current treatments include drugs that target areas of the brain affected by a loss of dopamine, as well as deep-brain stimulation. However, these treatments may not be effective for everyone, particularly those with advanced Parkinson's disease.
The researchers focused on a technique called epidural electrical stimulation (EES), which can modulate the activity of neurons involved in locomotor movements. Previous studies have shown that EES can restore standing and walking in individuals with paralysis due to spinal cord injuries.
In this study, the researchers developed a form of EES that specifically targets neurons in the spine that are activated during walking. They recruited a 62-year-old man named Marc, who has experienced Parkinson's symptoms for 30 years, to test this technique. Marc had severe motor issues, including gait freezing, which caused him to fall multiple times a day.
The researchers mapped the neurons in Marc's spine to guide the implantation of the electrical stimulators. Sensors were placed on Marc's legs and shoes to monitor the electrical activity of the neurons that activate his leg and foot muscles. When this activity was detected, the stimulators were activated.
After three months of rehabilitative training using the stimulators, Marc's gait freezing significantly decreased. He now rarely falls and can walk several kilometers without assistance.
The stimulation provided to Marc was personalized, with more stimulation applied to the leg that was more difficult to move. The researchers believe that a similar technique could help many individuals with severe Parkinson's disease.
While this study shows promising results, more research is needed. The researchers hope to test this method in more people with Parkinson's disease, and it will likely be at least five more years before the treatment is available outside of a trial.
Overall, this study provides an exciting development in the treatment of movement difficulties in Parkinson's disease and opens up possibilities for future treatments.