Neurosurgeons and neuroscientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL)/Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV)/ University of Lausanne (UNIL), Inserm, and the University of Bordeaux have designed a spinal cord neuroprosthesis aimed at addressing locomotor impairments associated with Parkinson’s disease.

The technology of the new neuroprosthetic implant was developed by NeuroRestore in collaboration with ONWARD Medical. It is designed to correct and improve walking disorders in Parkinson’s patients.

NeuroRestore is a collaboration between the EPFL and CHUV.

The scientists’ description of the procedure of creating the neuroprosthetic was published in the Nature Medicine journal.

The neuroprosthetic has helped treat the first Parkinson’s patient by allowing him to walk comfortably, confidently, and without falling, said NeuroRestore.

Marc Gauthier, a long-term patient of Parkinson’s disease, has become the first individual to get the implant.

The neuroprosthetic is designed to address the spinal region responsible for initiating leg muscle activity during walking. This area is not directly impacted by Parkinson’s disease, in contrast to conventional treatments that focus on the brain region affected by the loss of dopamine-producing neurons.

NeuroRestore centre co-director and CHUV, UNIL and EPFL neurosurgeon and professor Jocelyne Bloch said: “It is impressive to see how by electrically stimulating the spinal cord in a targeted manner, in the same way as we have done with paraplegic patients, we can correct walking disorders caused by Parkinson’s disease.”

At CHUV, Gauthier received the neuroprosthetic that consisted of an electrode field pressed up against his spinal cord.

When coupled with an electrical impulse generator positioned beneath his abdominal skin, the device triggered the spinal cord, causing his leg muscles to activate.

The patient was able to walk nearly normally after using the neuroprosthetic for several weeks as part of his rehabilitation.

NeuroRestore said that this concept of treatment has only been shown to work for one patient at this time, and the implant still needs to be optimised for widespread use.

The research, innovation, and treatment center is planning to start clinical tests involving six new patients next year. These trials are intended to validate the technology as well as to determine the patient profiles that are suitable for this treatment.