A new Swiss-designed implant has helped a man with advanced Parkinson’s disease to walk almost normally again, according to a study published in Nature Medicine. The implant, called a neuroprosthesis, stimulates the spinal cord with electrical pulses to activate the leg muscles and restore mobility.
How the implant works
The neuroprosthesis consists of an electrode field placed against the spinal cord and an electrical impulse generator under the skin of the abdomen. The device measures the residual movements of the legs with small sensors and adjusts the stimulation accordingly, mimicking the communication between the brain and the spinal cord that is impaired by Parkinson’s disease.
The implant was developed by a team of researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), the University of Lausanne and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV), led by surgeon Jocelyne Bloch and neuroscientist Gregoire Courtine. The team had previously pioneered similar breakthroughs to help paraplegic people walk again.
The first patient to receive the implant
The first patient to receive the implant was Marc, a 62-year-old man from France who had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for about 30 years. Marc had difficulty walking and experienced frequent episodes of freezing, during which he was temporarily unable to move and at risk of falling.
Marc underwent surgery in Switzerland in 2022 and received the neuroprosthesis. Since then, he has been able to walk almost normally again, without freezing or falling. He can also leave his home, run errands and do whatever he wants independently.
“It changed my life because I’m now independent,” Marc said. “I can go for a walk, go out shopping by myself—I can go do whatever I want.”
A potential game-changer for Parkinson’s patients
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological disorder that affects more than 8.5 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. The disease is characterized by symptoms such as tremors, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination. The cause of the disease is unknown and there is no cure.
The researchers believe that the neuroprosthesis could be a game-changing technology to help restore movement in people with advanced Parkinson’s disease, who often suffer from debilitating mobility issues. The device could also improve their quality of life and reduce their dependence on caregivers.
“We strongly believe that many individuals could benefit from this therapy,” Courtine said. “This could be a game-changing technology to help restore movement in people with advanced Parkinson’s.”
The researchers plan to carry out clinical tests on six new patients next year and hope to make the implant available to more people in the future.