A new treatment offers hope for Parkinson's patients to walk again

It mimics how the brain sends electrical pulses to muscle.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Neuron cells system disease.koto_feja/iStock

Researchers have long been looking for treatment options for Parkinson's disease from drug-producing bacteria to neuron treatments. Despite all advances, however, the disease remains prevalent with absolutely debilitating effects eroding motor functions and often confining patients to a bed or wheelchair.

This happens due to a condition called orthostatic hypotension and at least for that part of the disease, researchers may have found a treatment, according to a France24 article published on Thursday. The treatment comes in the shape of a spinal cord implant and it could get Parkinson's patients up and walk again.

Making paralyzed people walk again

Neurosurgeons Jocelyne Bloch and Gregoire Courtine revealed in their study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week that such an implant had allowed three paralyzed people to walk again. More recent research sought to evaluate a similar implant on a 48-year-old woman.

The woman, in this case, did not have Parkinson's but exhibited such severe symptoms that she would faint after taking just a few steps. In fact, she was initially diagnosed with the disease because her symptoms were so similar to a Parkinson's' patient. 

After undergoing surgery with Bloch and Courtine, the patient was reported to be able to walk more than 250 meters (820 feet) with the help of a walking frame. "She is not cured, she would not run a marathon, but this surgery has clearly improved her quality of life," Bloch told AFP.

What does the implant do?

It mimics how the brain sends electrical pulses to muscles and stimulates the regulator in the brain that senses the need to send more blood when people stand up. Although right now the researchers only have a single successful case, the treatment does offer much hope for those affected by the devastating conditions of Parkinson's. Still, more studies need to be conducted on the spinal cord implant to surface more possibilities for the treatment. 

Abstract:

Orthostatic hypotension is a cardinal feature of multiple-system atrophy. The upright posture provokes syncopal episodes that prevent patients from standing and walking for more than brief periods. We implanted a system to restore the regulation of blood pressure and enable a patient with multiple-system atrophy to stand and walk after having lost these abilities because of orthostatic hypotension. This system involved epidural electrical stimulation delivered over the thoracic spinal cord with accelerometers that detected changes in body position. (Funded by the Defitech Foundation).

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