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Game-Changing Spinal Implant Can Restore Movement in Advanced Parkinson's Patients

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 07 Nov 2023
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Image: The neuroprosthetic to correct walking disorders marks a major breakthrough in Parkinson’s treatment (Photo courtesy of 123RF)
Image: The neuroprosthetic to correct walking disorders marks a major breakthrough in Parkinson’s treatment (Photo courtesy of 123RF)

Walking difficulties affect nearly 90% of individuals with advanced Parkinson’s disease, and these difficulties often do not respond well to existing treatments. Now, a neuroprosthetic designed to correct walking disorders associated with Parkinson’s disease could allow patients to walk comfortably, confidently, and without falling.

This neuroprosthetic, created by a collaborative effort from neuroscientists and neurosurgeons at NeuroRestore (Lausanne, Switzerland) takes a different approach than conventional Parkinson’s treatments that focus on the brain’s dopamine-producing neurons. Instead, it targets the spinal region responsible for activating leg muscles during walking, which isn't directly impacted by Parkinson’s. The device works by delivering electrical stimulation to specific parts of the spinal cord, thus addressing the walking impairments associated with the disease. The development of this neuroprosthetic was based on extensive research into treating paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries.

In a precision neurosurgical procedure conducted two years ago, a patient was fitted with the new neuroprosthetic. The implant consists of an electrode array positioned along the spinal cord, which coordinates leg movements and a pulse generator implanted under the skin of the abdomen. The device is programmed to tailor the spinal stimulation to the patient's movement patterns, allowing for real-time adjustment. This patient experienced a significant improvement in his walking disorder shortly after starting to use the neuroprosthetic. With continuous rehabilitation and the aid of the neuroprosthetic, he has regained the ability to walk almost normally. This innovation offers a new avenue for addressing walking impairments in those with Parkinson’s disease. Yet, it’s important to note that, so far, the device has shown success in just one individual, and further enhancements are needed to prepare the implant for broader application.

“It is impressive to see how by electrically stimulating the spinal cord in a targeted manner, in the same way as we have done with paraplegic patients, we can correct walking disorders caused by Parkinson’s disease,” said Jocelyne Bloch, neurosurgeon and co-director of the NeuroRestore Centre.

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