A cutting-edge treatment which can significantly restore movement to sufferers of Parkinson’s disease has been hailed as ‘beyond the wildest dreams’ of its researchers.
Patients previously left housebound are now walking freely after receiving electrical stimulation to their spines. An implant has been developed to boost the signals sent from the brain to the limbs and vice versa. This enables the patient to walk normally, it is claimed. A quarter of Parkinson’s disease patients have difficulty walking as the affliction begins to take its toll. Some start to freeze on the spot and even fall over.
But the pioneering Canadian researchers behind the technique said the quality-of-life improvement to patients is immeasurable.
Professor Mandar Jog, of Western University in London, Ontario, said the results were ‘beyond his wildest dreams’. Speaking to the BBC, he said: ‘Most of our patients have had the disease for 15 years and have not walked with any confidence for several years.’
He added: ‘For them to go from being home-bound, with the risk of falling, to being able to go on trips to the mall and have vacations is remarkable for me to see.’
Gail Jardine, 66, said her quality of life has improved since having the implant fitted two months ago. Mrs. Jardine previously kept freezing on the spot, as well as falling two or three times a day. The subsequent loss of confidence prevented her from taking countryside walks in Kitchener, Ontario, with her husband, Stan.
But now she can walk freely for the first time in more than two years. She said: ‘I can walk a lot better. I haven’t fallen since I started the treatment.
‘It’s given me more confidence and I’m looking forward to taking more walks with Stan and maybe even go on my own.’ Walking requires the brain and legs to send signals in a loop. First, the brain tells the legs to move. It then receives signals when a step has been taken and, in turn, sends instructions for the next step.
And Professor Jog now believes Parkinson’s disease restricts signals coming back to the brain – as opposed to coming from the brain – which causes the loop to break and patients to freeze.
He believes the burst of electricity from the implant reawakens the feedback mechanism from legs to the brain – which is diminished by the disease. He said: ‘This is a completely different rehabilitation therapy. We had thought that the movement problems occurred in Parkinson’s patients because signals from the brain to the legs were not getting through.
‘But it seems that it’s the signals getting back to the brain that is degraded.’
Dr. Beckie Port, of charity Parkinson’s UK, said: ‘Should future studies show the same promise, it has the potential to dramatically improve quality of life, giving people with Parkinson’s the freedom to enjoy everyday activities.’