Gail Jardine says it's a bit like changing channels on television. Never used a remote control, however, it was so much altering life.
Jardine refers to the electrodes implanted in her back at the end of December, and the device that turns and adjusts their frequency, an experimental treatment for Parkinson's disease, led by a Canadian team.
Until a few months ago, the former employee of the school board often frozen as he walked – and fell – a frequent and exhausting symptom of the condition.
Now, the so-called spinal cord stimulation, it helps eliminate the problem and transform its daily routine as "night and day."
"I'm going with my husband," said the 66-year-old London, On., Resident on Thursday. "I can go through the house without a reed. I can play with my grandchildren, do everything I want to do."
Jardine is part of a study by a team at West London University that uses electrical impulses in the spine to address the harsh damage, which may be impossible to treat differently.
Dr Mandar Jog, the neurologist who led the job, announced only one paper involving the first five patients – last May – and warns that this is the early days, far from "fixed and complete".
Other experts noted that such symptoms have a subjective element and are susceptible to a placebo effect.
But he says the results to date are surprisingly promising, making dramatic improvements in many patients enrolled in his trials.
Two homemakers who relied on wheelchairs went on vacation under their own steam – one leaving the woman in tears when changing – while others eliminated repeated falls that could have catastrophic consequences.
"We do not make people run the Boston Marathon, it's not an idea," said Jogh. "We do not heal the disease, but … even people do not fall is a big deal for them."
Parkinson occurs in people whose brains do not produce enough dopamine, a chemical that carries signals between brain cells and controls movement. The result may be tremor, sluggishness and stiffness, disturbed balance and rigidity, among other symptoms.
Even getting people to fall is a big deal
Treatments include drugs that boost the production of dopamine and, in less than 10 per cent of patients, deep brain stimulation, where electrodes are implanted in the brain.
But drugs do not do much for walking problems, such as those of Jardine, and deep brain stimulation can actually make them worse, said Jog.
Scientists working with Parkinson's sufferers of rodents and primates reported good results by stimulating the spinal cord as it was a decade ago.
However, scientists slowly followed human temptations, leaving one leader in that science, Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University, "frustrated that people do not really believe in his work," said Jog.
The Canadian and his colleagues at the Western Lawson Health Research Institute are among the few teams in the world that experiment with humans.
With an ambulatory procedure that lasts about an hour, the electrodes are implanted in the & quot; backbone. Patients use the "remote control" to adjust the frequency, as well as to turn the generator on and off when they wake up in the morning and evening.
Jog says his research suggests that electric shocks are actually "reactivating" or causing established walking patterns. The study uses sensor-based technology to measure objectively the changes.
The document released last year to the top five entities posted improvements after six months in length and speed of steps, the ability to stand out from sitting and trusting in walking. Freezing of the goat – known by neurologists by the evocative acronym "Fogg" – was completely eliminated.
Five years after they were first treated, one died, one saw improvements after three and a half years, but the other three continue to enjoy the changes, said Jogh.
However, there are skeptics. In a letter to the magazine published by the western paper, Dr. Erich Talamoni Fonaf from the Brazilian University in Sao Paulo confirmed the promise of the idea, but noted that "it is well known that some PD symptoms can be improved improbably with placebo."
In particular, the freezing of walking is greatly affected by attention, stress and environmental distractions, he said. Fonoff called for double-blind trials, in which the control group of patients received a cure procedure for comparison according to the actual treatment.
Jogg acknowledges that it is theoretically possible for his subjects to experience a placebo effect, but said randomized controlled trials would be difficult to properly implement with the stimulation technology of the spinal column.
And, he pointed out, the placebo issue is of dubious importance if patients continue to do many years later.
Meanwhile, his team also tries to stimulate the spinal cord to another 10 patients in Parkinson's and individuals with other movement disorders, such as progressive supranuclear paralysis, for which there is practically no treatment. It can also help many sufferers of "vascular disorder", whose movements were damaged by mini-strokes.
Jardine was diagnosed 12 years ago and finally had to give up her job as an educational analyst, stop driving and be just homemade.
"I had really bad frost, just lock your legs and just shoot it," she said. "I was happy that I did not break anything."
Jardine is convinced that what started four months ago is much more than just a placebo effect and sees no signs of stimulating benefits that have worn off.
In fact, she said: "I feel more and more."