A highly experimental implant that delivers electrical stimulation to the spinal cord has substantially improved mobility for one man with advanced Parkinson’s disease, according to a report published today in Nature Medicine.
The technology, developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), enables the man to walk fluidly and to navigate terrain without falling — something he couldn’t do before the treatment. Parkinson’s causes uncontrollable movements and difficulty with coordination that worsens over time.
The effects of the treatment have lasted for two years. “There are no therapies to address the severe gait problems that occur at a later stage of Parkinson’s, so it’s impressive to see him walking,” says Jocelyne Bloch, a neurosurgeon at the EPFL and a lead author of the paper.
But with only one individual tested, it remains unclear whether the approach will work for other people with the disease. The next step “would be to do a randomized, controlled trial”, says Susan Harkema, a neuroscientist at the University of Louisville in Kentucky who works on stimulation therapy in people with spinal cord injuries.