Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder characterized by the build-up of α-synuclein in the brain. The gradual accumulation of α-synuclein leads to formation of neurotoxic aggregates, called Lewy bodies, and neurodegeneration, particularly in neurons involved in dopamine signaling. Commonly known to impact a person’s mood, dopamine has multiple other functions, including the performance of fine motor actions and maintaining proper posture and gait. Parkinson’s patients therefore develop a set of motor symptoms including tremor and gait imbalance that progressively worsen over time.
Recently, a study from the University of Tsukuba in Japan demonstrated the utility of a wearable cyborg Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) unit to improve gait in Parkinson’s patients, and patients with progressive supranuclear palsy (a different condition with Parkinson’s-like symptoms). The HAL unit, functioning as a sort of exoskeleton, generates motor cues in response to biofeedback from the wearer to promote normal gait and movement. All 5 patients showed improvements in gait disturbance while wearing the HAL unit, and 2 patients showed continued improvements when not wearing the unit. These results suggest the HAL-provided biofeedback and sensory cues improve CNS plasticity to promote proper posture and motor function. Overall, this feasibility study presents a promising potential aid for patients with Parkinson’s Disease and other similar neurodegenerative diseases, allowing patients to potentially gain greater gait independence and avoid falls that typically lead to hospitalization.
Study reference: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-023-33847-z