Spinal Implant Could Help Parkinson’s PatientsSpinal Implant Could Help Parkinson’s Patients
The device was implanted in a 63-year-old patient in 2021 with positive results
November 13, 2023
New research has shown a new spinal implant could help people with Parkinson’s disease regain motion.
The novel design, developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) alongside medtech device company Onward, features an electrode placed against a user’s spinal cord, combined with an electrical impulse generator implanted under the skin near the abdomen.
The device works by sending electrical pulses to the spinal cord, stimulating the leg muscles to help a user walk, move and balance.
“Instead of focusing on the region of the brain,” said Grégoire Courtin, EPFL professor of neuroscience. “We thought that we could focus on the spinal cord that ultimately is responsible for the activation of leg muscle in order to walk.”
To test the efficacy of the design, the team implanted the device in 63-year-old Marc Gauthier, a patient who had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for 30 years, in 2021.
According to the team, the device showed positive results. Gauthier was able to walk without falling and could perform everyday tasks such as going to the store, regaining a level of coordination and independence previously thought to be gone.
“It allows me to do 5 kilometers without stopping,” Gauthier said in a video interview. “Getting into an elevator … sounds simple but for me, before, it was impossible.”
The team noted that the device has only been tested in Gauthier and it may not be as effective in other patients.
Further research into its development and operation is therefore needed, with plans to conduct a trial with multiple participants.
“We don’t know whether all individuals with Parkinson’s disease will respond to the therapy,” said Courtin. “But we are committed to first developing a purpose-built technology…adapted to people with Parkinson’s disease, and to test this intervention soon in six additional individuals.”
According to the team, the research was partially funded through a $1 million grant from the Michael J. Fox Foundation, with these funds also set to support the next trials of the technology.
The team’s findings were published in early November in the journal Nature Medicine.
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