Experimental spinal stimulation shows promise for reducing freezing

Results from a trial of spinal cord stimulation carried out in Ontario, Canada highlights its potential for improving walking in Parkinson's.

The experimental treatment for Parkinson's recently featured on BBC News. The news comes after results from a pilot study of the treatment, which involved just 5 people with Parkinson's, were published in the scientific journal, Movement Disorders.

In this study, the researchers found that electrical stimulation of the spinal cord improved walking and freezing in the participants, even after the therapy was stopped.

Movement problems in Parkinson's

Parkinson's causes the loss of brain cells that produce a chemical messenger called dopamine. This lack of dopamine can cause some people with Parkinson's to experience motor symptoms such as tremor, slowness and freezing, which can all worsen over time.

Freezing in particular can lead to falls, putting people at risk of seriously hurting themselves, and can have long-lasting effects on confidence and quality of life. The effects can be so profound that people living with Parkinson's listed finding treatments to help improve balance and reduce falls as their number one priority research area to improve everyday life.

Early-stage research

In this latest research, Professor Mandar Jog, in London, Ontario in Canada, led a small scale pilot study in five people with Parkinson's. The trial involved surgically implanting a device that could electrically stimulate the lower spinal cord over a 1–4 month period.

The effects of this stimulation were assessed 6 months after the surgery – after the therapy had been stopped. Positive results were seen in the measures used to assess walking ability. The therapy was also seen to significantly reduce the average number of freezing episodes throughout the study.

The team are now taking their work forward to a larger clinical trial, assessing spinal cord stimulation in 25 people with Parkinson's. The results of this larger study are expected in 2020.

Dr Beckie Port, Research Communications Manager at Parkinson's UK, said: "The results seen in this small-scale pilot study are very promising and the therapy certainly warrants further investigation.

"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 like going for a walk."

Take part in research

Research can only happen because of the amazing people who take part.

Without people like you, progress in Parkinson's research would be impossible.