After living with Parkinson’s for over 30 years, 62-year-old Marc Gautier could barely walk, but with the help of a new device implanted into his spinal cord, he is now able to walk unassisted for the first time in many years.
The Frenchman has been living with Parkinson’s since he was 36.
The neurodegenerative disease affected his life in every way, forcing him to retire as an architect when mobility issues got in the way of his work.
The pioneering research project that has him walking and even climbing stairs again, was led by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, which published the findings in the journal, Nature Medicine.
After two years, the device, called a neuroprosthesis, returned the subject’s mobility and his independence. He now enjoys strolls by the lake near his home in a small town near Bordeaux.
Parkinson’s Disease effects the production of dopamine in a person’s brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for most bodily functions and without it, mobility becomes increasingly difficult.
Most treatments involve dopamine replacement and deep brain stimulation which typically means implanting electrodes in the brain to produce electrical impulses. Doctors have found these treatments can become less effective as the patients’ condition worsens over time.
The Swiss researchers took a difficult path. "Instead of focusing on the region of the brain that's deprived of dopamine, we thought that we could focus on the spinal cord, that ultimately is responsible for the activation of leg muscle in order to walk," Grégoire Courtine, professor of neuroscience at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and co-author of Gautier’s case study said.
Gautier described his condition prior to the spinal implant, in a news release by Medical Design Briefs, "I practically could not walk anymore without falling frequently, several times a day.”
The patient regaining mobility and research findings, while promising are part of an ongoing research effort.