Jul 16, 2019 | Updated: 10:46 AM EDT

Breakthrough Treatment Restores Movement to Patients with Chronic Parkinson's Disease

Apr 24, 2019 07:46 PM EDT

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Parkinson's Disease
(Photo : Lawson Health Research Institute)

"I can walk...I can turn... it's really helped me."  says Gail Jardine, 66, a patient with chronic Parkinson's Disease at Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario.  She was previously housebound but is now seen to be walking more freely.  These words are in some ways almost impossible to believe, given the very debilitating effects of this disease on patients.  But it seems as though, this Canadian team of scientist has finally found a cure to an aspect of the disease where there is currently no treatment.

Prof Mandar Jog, of Western University and associate scientific director, Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario, says the scale of benefit to patients of his new treatment was "beyond his wildest dreams".  He stated that most of their patients have had the disease for 15 years and have not walked with any confidence for several years, until now.  

When one walks this involves the brain sending signals to the legs to move and vice versa once the move has been completed.  With the disease, there seems to be a problem with this feedback mechanism and the signals that go back to the brain is weakened thus breaking the loop and causing the patient to freeze.  His team developed the spinal implant to boost that signal enabling the patient to walk normally.  But Prof Jog was extremely surprised (in a very good way) that the treatment not only worked but showed long-lasting effects and worked even when the implant was off.  He believes the electrical stimulus reawakened the feedback mechanism from legs to the brain that is damaged by the disease.  

"This is a completely different rehabilitation therapy," he said. "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."

These findings were further supported by brain scans which showed that before the patients received the electrical treatment, the areas that control movement were not working properly but a few months into the treatment those areas were restored.

Dr Beckie Port, research manager at Parkinson's UK stated that the results seen in this small-scale pilot study are very promising and the therapy certainly warrants further investigation.  She stated further that should future studies show the same level of promise, it has the potential to dramatically improve quality of life, giving people with Parkinson's the freedom to enjoy everyday activities.

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