Image (Source: Fortune)
By Soyeon Park
Canadian researchers have developed a potential treatment that can restore movements of Parkinson’s disease patients.
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive disorder that affects dopamine-producing neurons to cause a loss of control on body movements. Parkinson’s patients often show both motor symptoms and non-motor symptoms. Motor symptoms are involved with impairments in movement such as tremor and muscle rigidity, whereas non-motor symptoms include speech abnormality and depression.
One-fourth of Parkinson’s patients experience “freezing”, where they lose control of their legs and fall down. This happens due to problems in the neurotransmission pathway; in order to walk, the signal sent from the brain to the leg must be retrieved so that the signal for the next movement can be sent again. However, the disease degenerates the returning signal, breaking the cycle and causing the patient to “freeze”.
Professor Mandar Jog of Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario developed an implant that gives electrical stimulus to the spine. The electric current triggers the return signal from the leg to the brain, re-awakening the degraded feedback mechanism. All existing Parkinson’s treatments can only relieve the symptoms temporarily, instead of curing the disease. However, Professor Jog found out that the patients who received his implant treatment could walk even when the stimulus was turned off; it means that the electrical implant serves as a long-term rehabilitation therapy rather than a momentary relief.
He believes that his treatment can be the potential ‘cure’ of the disease. “Most of our patients have had the disease for 15 years and have not walked with any confidence for several years,” he said, “For them to go from being homebound, 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, is one of the patients who have benefited immensely from the implant. Before receiving the electrical treatment, she kept on freezing while walking and fell down multiple times a day. Two months into the treatment, her brain scan showed that the regions controlling movement were restored, enabling her to walk for much longer periods.
She can now take a walk in the park with her husband, Stan, for the first time in nearly three years. “I can walk a lot better,” said Jardine, “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 my husband and maybe even go on my own.”
According to Dr. Beckie Port of Parkinson’s UK, the therapy has positive prospects. “It has the potential to dramatically improve quality of life, giving people with Parkinson’s the freedom to enjoy everyday activities,” she said.