Experimental implant restores Parkinson’s patient’s ability to walk, researchers say

A new implant targeting Parkinson’s disease has restored one man’s ability to walk after 25 years of suffering from the disease, according to a study published in the journal Natural medicine on Monday.

Marc Gauthier, 63, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 36 and experienced reduced motor function as the disease progressed. With the help of the experimental, surgically implanted device, he is now able to walk over three miles without stopping, according to the study.

“Getting into an elevator … sounds simple. To me, it used to be impossible,” Gauthier said in one interview with NeuroRestore, a Swiss research and treatment center working to restore neurological function. “I skated, I froze. Now … I have no problem,” he added.

Interview provided by .NeuroRestore. by
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Parkinson’s is a brain disease that results in degeneration of the nervous system. About 90% of patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease experience what the study calls “movement defects” that affect the ability to walk freely. Although there is currently no known cure for Parkinson’s, it is increasingly being treated.

The epidural implant, developed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, University Hospital Lausanne and NeuroRestore, sits on the lower part of the spinal cord and sends signals to the legs through the brain. As the implant stimulates these nerves, it works to “relieve asymmetry and promote longer strides, improve balance and reduce freezing of gait,” allowing the leg muscles to move more comfortably, according to the study.

In Gauthier’s case, a small generator embedded in his abdominal skin provided direct power to the implant. After the implantation, rehabilitation sessions were conducted two to three times a week for three months.

Researchers remain cautious about the therapy’s future prospects. “This is just one participant,” said Grégoire Courtine, director of NeuroRestore and a neuroscientist himself.

“We don’t know if all people with Parkinson’s disease will respond to the treatment,” Courtine said, adding that the team is “committed” to building out the technology and testing it on six additional patients in the near future.

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